Thursday, March 31, 2016

Patience, Grasshopper

         Albert and Mary Graham, circa 1890                  Albert and Mary Graham, circa 1910

Background – Albert Gallitan Graham and Mary Richardson Grantham were my 2nd-great grandparents.  There is a huge mystery surrounding Albert.  I wanted to solve this mystery so I started placing queries in 2003 which yielded ZERO hits. In 2008 I  submitted a newspaper article to the Hattiesburg American for publication.  I was working for the McDuffie Mirror newspaper at the time so I had an in.  The Hattiesburg American did some editing and cut out some of the crucial info so I have included the entire article. This will give you background information on this little mystery. The article yielded ZERO contacts. I continued to submit queries through 2012 which is when I got my first break in the case.  More on that after you read the article. 

Everyone loves a good mystery and this mystery happens to involve a Forrest County woman.  Not just any woman but one that hasn't been seen nor heard from since June 17, 1940.  Her name is Ella Ford Collins Graham, or at least we think that is her name.  So why is this mysterious woman important now?  Maybe if we take a look at what we do know the importance will become clear.

It starts with a man by the name of Albert Gallitan Graham who was born September 1844 in Simpson County.  He lived with his parents Archibald Graham and Sarah Brown until he went off to war in 1864. Albert served well and came home in one piece.  On March 4, 1867, Albert married Mary Grantham and the two of them made their home in Marion County (present day Lamar) raising their four children.  Mary was a widow with three small children.  Her first husband Elias Whiddon had been killed in the war. Albert was your average 1800s Mississippi farmer and he and his wife squeaked out a very modest living.  The next major event was when Albert's wife Mary died on April 6, 1917.  She is buried in the Grantham Family Cemetery in Lamar County.   From then on Albert lived with his unmarried daughter Sarah. On September 3, 1917 Albert applied for his Confederate pension when he turned 73.  He continued to live with his daughter until he became too old and feeble.  On September 10, 1925, at age 81, he was admitted to the Jefferson Davis Confederate Soldiers Home (now Beauvoir) in Biloxi.  Less than a year later on April 21, 1926 Albert died.  He is buried in the Beauvoir Confederate Cemetery.

Now is when the story gets interesting and our mystery woman makes her appearance.  On June 17, 1940, 14 years after Albert had died, a woman by the name of Ella Ford Collins Graham submitted a Confederate widow's pension application to the Forrest County pension board in Albert's name.  In this application she stated that she and Albert had married in Purvis in 1916.  There are very few other clues about this woman.  She stated that she was 67 years old which would put her date of birth at about 1873 and make her 29 years younger than Albert.  She stated she had been living in the state of Mississippi for 60 years.  It is unknown where she was born.  Before and after she applied for the widow's pension Ella isn’t found in any records.  At this time we don't know if Ford was her middle name or her maiden name nor whether Collins was her maiden name or a first married name.  This has made it impossible to locate her in the census records especially considering that the names of Ford and Collins are both quite common.  No Mississippi death certificate has been found for Ella nor is she listed in the book, Forrest County, Mississippi Tombstone Inscriptions, (several other county cemetery books were also checked) though her name could have easily changed if she had remarried.  In all of the previous records of Albert Graham there is no mention of Ella.  On his pension application he is listed as a widower.  On the 1920 census he is living with his daughter and is listed as a widower.  On his admission to Jefferson Davis he is listed as a widower with his dead wife being named Mary.  Ella stated she and Albert married in 1916 in Purvis but Albert's first wife Mary didn't die until 1917.  The marriage records at the Lamar County and Forrest County courthouses have been hand searched with nothing found; however, a common law marriage is possible.

We have but one more very important clue.  Interviews with several elderly descendants and relatives of Albert have reported that Albert fathered a child out of wedlock in his old age with an unknown woman.  Could Ella be the mother?  It would make sense.  Ella might have felt entitled to the widow's pension especially if times were rough and she was raising Albert's child alone.  If these family stories are true then Ella's son or daughter could still be alive (born 1916-1926?).  How many people alive today can say their father was a Confederate soldier? None that I know of so if this child does exist it is something to be celebrated. So where do I fit into all of this?  I happen to be Albert's great, great granddaughter and would welcome meeting a previously unknown child of Albert's.  I have much to tell him or her (or his or her children) about Albert.  If you have any information about Ella Ford Collins Graham or any of her children, please give me a call (XXX-XXX-XXXX) or send an e-mail to  I look forward to hearing from you.
[old email. Don’t try using it]

Michele Lewis, Staff Genealogist
McDuffie Mirror
Thomson, McDuffie Co, GA

Four years later in 2012 I was contacted by a Ford researcher that had part of the answer.  She knew who Ella Ford Collins was.  Ella was the daughter of Charles Franklin Ford and Martha Waller.  She was born June 1874 in Marion County, Mississippi.  She married Benjamin Collins, Sr. on 18 November 1900.  All of this was confirmed with census records and marriage records. But what happened to Ella?  The Ford researcher did not know.

Yesterday I received an email from a gentleman that said, “Hi Michele,  I saw your '04, '07, & '08 posts looking for info on Ella Ford Collins Graham. Were you able to break thru the wall on her?”  I emailed him back and told him everything I know.  And then the bombshell.  “Several trees reference Ella's death as 1951 in Forest City, Clinton Co., IN. I have not been able to verify this reference as yet.”

Indiana?  Seriously? Why on earth would I look there. Okay, now I am looking. I checked the “trees” and I found several people with an exact death date of 20 August 1951 but no one has a source. That would have been too easy.  I found one that had a burial place, Bunnell Cemetery.  Now we are on to something.  Time to check Find A Grave to see if I can come up with enough information to find an obituary or the death certificate. This is crucial so that I can show that THIS Ella is MY Ella using the place of birth and her parents’ names.

Now a roadblock.  There is a Ella F. Goff (a new married name?) that was born in 1874 and died in 1951 buried in the Bunnell Cemetery but the owner of that memorial has her born in Clinton County, Indiana with her mother being Lucinda Rodgers.  Well this isn’t good. 

I find the Indiana Ella’s obituary on NewspaperArchive. I click the link and…

Well okay then.  I really don’t think this is the right Ella but I have to check it out. I just ordered the Indiana Ella’s death certificate. Well worth $8.00. I should start a football pool.  Is the Ella that died in Indiana my Ella? Several “trees” say it is so.  Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis




Thursday, March 24, 2016

A fun project from J Paul Hawthorne

A while back we did a Death Chart on the blog after Nathan Murphy posted his Death Chart on the FamilySearch Blog.  Yesterday J Paul Hawthorne posted a cool chart on Facebook showing the birth places of his ancestors and a gazillion genealogists followed suit (including me).  My chart is a bit boring compared to some of the others.  I am not very diverse.  This was created in Excel.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A problem with the sliders but a shout out for great customer service - I am looking for any documents with the name “Stephen Oliver Perry” that were generated in the state of Mississippi. I have the given name slider set at EXACT, I have the surname slider set at EXACT and I have the event location slider set at EXACT. Here is what the Ancestry search comes back with. Do you see any Mississippi records?


Wait! There is a button under Schools, Directories & Church Records to see more results! Maybe my Mississippi hits are hiding there!


Nope. This one bothered me a bit because the ability to filter is very important when doing searches. I of course took a look at the hits just to see what might be there. Wow, Ancestry is having a really hard time with whatever OCR program they are using. It sees the TYPED words Butts and house as Perry. Yeah, that’s close. It also picked up the words Stephen (or Oliver) as many as 10 words away from word Perry. That doesn’t work for me either. It picked up place names that contained Perry. Even if I could overlook their OCR issues (and they really need to get that fixed) I can’t overlook that I told the search to restrict to the state of MISSISSIPPI. There is no excuse for this one.

I asked Ancestry why the filtered search does not work. I posted on the Ancestry Facebook page and one of their representative responded in less than 5 minutes which I have to say is pretty good at 8:50am on a Saturday morning. So far they get an A+ for customer service. They told me to send my login info to them via private message so that they could look at my search internally. 

Here is their response:

“We believe the reason you're getting the results you're seeing is because you've selected everything to be exact so the search algorithm on the site is trying to bring you everything that you've asked for. What we did was select Mississippi to be the only exact piece of information and that really improved the results we got.”

I am very happy that they answered my concern so quickly but I am not as happy with their answer. My problem is that Perry is a very common surname and Stephen is a very common given name. My strategy is to make the search as tight as possible and then I can loosen it it increments to pull in more results. They answered again:

“Hi again Michele, we will flag this with our development team because it is odd that you would get results for Rhode Island when specifying Mississippi to exact. We apologize for any frustration that may have been caused and we appreciate your understanding.”

Now I am happy (at least for now). They responded very quickly and they acknowledged that there is a problem. I will just live with the search issues until their programmers can address it.  I will be keeping an eye on it though.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, March 21, 2016

A big shout out to the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness Facebook Page

My DAR application for Reuben Radford was kicked back.  The Registrar in Washington wanted me to provide additional documentation to prove that a certain person in the lineage was truly one person and not two (sometimes she went by Susan and sometimes she went by Elizabeth).  I needed to find two census records that I had previously been unable to find so that I could track this one woman through all of the censuses during her lifetime proving that the families matched perfectly no matter if she was using Susan or Elizabeth.  I had all the censuses except for the 1880 and the 1900 and I searched every which way I could and I just wasn’t seeing it. Indexes can be frustrating sometimes. I needed some fresh eyes to do the search.

I posted a request on the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness Facebook page and in less than one hour I had BOTH censuses in my hand.  A huge thank you to Lisa Dotti who found the 1880 census and to Jennifer Pearson Edinger for finding the 1900. I am now able to prove they are one and the same person with a bonus of her being listed as Susan E. in the 1880 census (She was listed as Elizabeth S. on one of her marriage records). 

Life is good!


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cool experiment from Randy Seaver

Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings did a fun experiment in his blog post, How Many Records Are There For My Seaver Surname?

I, like Randy, love numbers and I just couldn’t pass this one up.  I did the same experiment using my One-Name Study name, Glaentzer.  Glaentzer is a pretty rare surname though it does suffer from a lot of variations.  I ran it through the big online repositories as is, no variations, just to see what kind of numbers I would get.  I set the search engines for exact matches only. – Historical Records only (no stories, trees, or photos) – 660 hits.

FamilySearch – Historical Records – 345 hits.

FindMyPast – All Records – 87 hits.

MyHeritage – All Collections (I had to hand subtract the tree hits, there is no way to filter them out of the search)  – 365 hits.

What fun!


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Enough is enough

On 08 July 2013 I introduced you to “genealogist” Barry Ewell in Time to name names. This was actually my second post about Barry Ewell. The first post was on 03 November 2012 and you can read it HERE. It all started with Cyndi Howells (now Cyndi Ingle) of Cyndi’sList.  She found that Barry Ewell had plagiarized her materials and committed copyright infringement.  She took him to court.  Other genealogists (real ones) discovered that Barry had also used their writings posting them as his own.  There was a big uproar back then which caused Barry to fade away, or so we thought.

Fast forward to now.  Barry is back up to his old tricks.  He has “written” a book called Google Guide for Genealogy that contains the copyrighted writings of Kimberly Powell without her knowledge, permission or credit.  This was discovered by Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers.  You can read his post HERE. After reading Thomas’s report DearMYRTLE conducted an independent review which you can read HERE.

It is important that this information get out to as many genealogical and family historians as possible. Barry Ewell targets novices/beginners who don’t know him for what he is. Social media can make this message travel at lightening speed and I encourage you to share this post as well as the posts from Thomas MacEntee and Pat Richley-Erickson (DearMYRTLE) on every platform you can.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Choosing Photo Retouching Software–Eric Basir, guest blogger

Choosing Photo Retouching Software
Eric Curtis M. Basir
Photo Grafix


After gathering and doing whatever you can to preserve your originals and purchasing a high quality scanner, you need to choose software with which to edit the scans. Without a doubt, the best product available is Adobe Photoshop Elements. That includes any version going way back to version 4.

Some of you may wonder: Should I buy the Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud? Unless you are just getting in to the professional graphic arts industry, you should stay clear of it. The features can be absolutely overwhelming and you must rent it monthly. This can make things very complicated if you want to open certain files should you decide to stop renting it. For genealogy purposes, Elements is more than sufficient.

Adobe is not the only heavyweight for photo editing software. If you insist on having access to all of the professional features of Photoshop Creative Cloud, but you don’t want to rent, I suggest Corel’s PaintShop Pro or PhotoLine. For open source (free) professional level software, Gimp is the choice of champions. Another very nice alternative to Adobe products is Pixelmator.

The biggest mistakes anyone can make is to buy new software and try to learn it on their own. Manuals are typically inadequate. Manuals are for reference. So find a class at your local community college or adult continuing education program.

There are also excellent online only resources. However, be careful. You don’t want to make your photo editing education curriculum based on random sets of videos on YouTube. I’ll be the first to admit that my YouTube channel is not a comprehensive learning platform (that’s why I created the course listed below). Like most photo editing videos on YouTube, mine address specific problems you might encounter with your photos.

A month or two of time for a class or online course with access to an experienced teacher who can answer your questions will reap great dividends! If going to a class or purchasing an online course is not feasible, I highly recommend the Teach Yourself Visually series of books. They are essentially the manual, but written in a fun, easy-to-understand manner.

Photo Restoration and Retouching Foundations Course
Teach Yourself Visually Adobe Photoshop Elements books

You can Email Eric Basir with any questions you might have during this series.
You can read Eric’s bio HERE.

Copyright © 2016 Eric Curtis M. Basir

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Choosing a scanner–Eric Basir, guest blogger

Choosing a scanner
Eric Curtis M. Basir
Photo Grafix


After reading the first article about taking care of your original photos and documents, you are ready to start preserving them digitally. To do that, you need a scanner. However, do not settle for any scanner that seems good or has a nice price. Quality is absolutely the most important. Fortunately, for us, quality does not always mean “expensive.”

For well over 15 years I continue to recommend that all genealogists choose Epson for scanning photos and documents (unfortunately they do not pay me for such glowing reviews). In my opinion, the Epson driver (software that lets the scanner communicate with your computer) is easily customizable and simple to use. The optics (the electronic parts that read the originals) is also very accurate.

Simply put, Epson gives you high quality scans at an affordable price. Currently I have been recommending the Epson V600 model. This scanner handles flat pictures and negatives. If you are willing to spend more to scan in large quantities per session, go with the Epson V800 series.

When it comes to portability, there is no comparison to the Flip-Pal. It’s very small and has very good “stitching” software that helps you scan large originals with ease. However, this scanner only scans in the JPG format. TIF is the archival quality format. JPG is not! A few years back I wrote a Flip-Pal review comparing the subtle difference of quality between scanning as JPG (with Flip-Pal) and TIF with Epson. Note that I wrote “subtle.” So it is not a horrible drawback. If all you have to use is the Flip-Pal then by all means, use it! However, I recommend that you read it and be aware.

There are also other specifications that you might consider when purchasing a scanner. I made a video at the Photo Grafix YouTube Channel covering them. However, you really don’t need to worry so much about that if you go with the Epson scanners that I recommend.

Photo Restoration Books I and II
Scanning 101
Compare Epson scanners online

You can Email Eric Basir with any questions you might have during this series.
You can read Eric’s bio HERE.

Copyright © 2016 Eric Curtis M. Basir

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Keeping your photos and documents safe–Eric Basir, guest blogger

Keeping Your Photos and Documents Safe
Eric Curtis M. Basir
Photo Grafix
2016-03-01-Keeping Your Photos Safe

Photo and document restoration is an important task for serious amateur and professional genealogists. With the broad use of photo editing programs, scanners, cameras and printers, it is becoming increasingly important.

As one would painstakingly research county records for important family links, so should one do with photographic preservation and restoration.

An ounce of prevention…

The best thing you can do for family photographs is to avoid restoring them! No matter if the pictures and documents are in good or poor condition, follow these basic guidelines to keep them as such:

1. Hold photos by their edges. Preferably, wear clean white gloves when handling your photos. This keeps oily fingerprints from embedding on the photo.

2. Keep those negatives sealed in a cool, dry space (a consistent 50% humidity). You can lose and tear up all the prints you want if you have the negatives. Keep prints stored in similar areas.

3. Only use photo-safe adhesives at a local hobby or craft store. Never use regular glue, tape or rubber cement (unless you want gooey yellow blobs on your great-great uncle’s forehead).

4. Use high-quality PVC-free photo albums for original prints. Cheap photo albums will leave others with a mess on their hands.

5. Photos will fade, fold and faint in direct sunlight! No matter how nice the frame is, glass or plastic can eventually bond with the surface of the print and make it impossible to remove. Always frame copies. Store the originals in a safe place (see No. 2).

Preserving Your Family Photos
Various books about photo preservation

You can Email Eric Basir with any questions you might have during this series.
You can read Eric’s bio HERE.

Copyright © 2016 Eric Curtis M. Basir

Monday, March 7, 2016

Introducing Eric Basir, guest blogger


Eric C. M. Basir launched Photo Grafix in 1999, a photographic restoration and retouching studio based in Evanston, IL. Using a combination of photographic, illustration and computer skills acquired through formal education and professional experience, he has served hundreds of genealogists throughout the United States with high-quality digital restoration of their photographic collections since 2001. He has an extensive portfolio of work with advertising agencies, book and magazine publishers, and professional photographers. Eric is the author of three books, over a dozen tutorials, and a video course about digital photo preservation and restoration. He is also the Facebook Page Manager for the Genealogical Speakers Guild.

He has written three blog posts for Ancestoring; Keeping your photos safe, Choosing a scanner, and Choosing photo retouching software. This is great information and I am very happy to give Eric the space on the blog. The first article will run tomorrow.

You can Email Eric Basir with any questions you might have during this series.

Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Friday, March 4, 2016

Congratulations to Cyndi’s List!

Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet

Cyndi’s List is celebrating their 20th Anniversary on the Internet. What an accomplishment! You can read their official press release HERE and if you would like to read the background story on how Cyndi’s List got started click HERE.

Cyndi’s List is indispensable for ALL researchers, newbies to professional.  If it is genealogy related and on the internet, Cyndi’s List will have a link to it.  Everything is organized and catalogued and it is the first place I go when I am looking for something – AND IT IS FREE!  Her current stats show she has over 330,000 links in 207 different categories.

Please tell Cyndi thank you on your favorite social media platform.


I would like to send my heartfelt congratulations and appreciation to Cyndi Ingle for all of the hard work she has done in the last 20 years to make researching easier for the rest of us.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis