Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Hat Trick - Point Three

This weekend I have three tips for the price of one:

  •     Never ignore evidence
  •     Consider unusual sources for unusual problems
  •     Even professionals get it wrong sometimes -- by accident or on purpose

Having looked at the evidence ignored by a professional researcher, we now turn to using unusual sources to find a death date in Sweden. The normal sources are the church death records and the clerical surveys. But the death of Soldier Jonas Flink is not found in the church records of  Stora Malm parish in Södermanland.

In addition to Stora Malm, I checked the death records in the home parish of his wife and a handful of surrounding parishes. No matter what country you are researching, remember that people did travel and births and deaths may have occurred in an unexpected jurisdiction.

At this point, I'd exhausted all the record types on Ancestry.

The website ArkivDigital has available some other record types that are less used in Swedish research. The next stop is the military records. Not all still exist, but let's look at what is available for the county of Södermanland. For 1806 and 1807 there's a single book with muster rolls (volume 151).

Soldier 22, Jonas Flink, age 32, representing Klicksta Rote, is listed on a muster roll dated June 20, 1807. He is married, has served for 9 years and is 6 feet and 0 inches tall. Not shown on these images is that the company is called a "Lif Compagnie", a company that is a life guard or body guard company charged with protecting others.









Is this the right Jonas Flink? Since military names are assigned to soldiers, there may be more than one Jonas Flink among the hundreds of soldiers in the Södermanland army. The age is certainly right and there is a Klicksta in Stora Malm parish.

Is there a church record that ties Jonas Flink to Klicksta? Yes, one such record exists. The godparents of daughter Brita Kajsa were from Klicksta, as seen in this 1801 birth and christening record from book C:5.




The soldier number and rote (area served) are tied together, so now we know that soldier 22 from Stora Malm always represents Klicksta. We have now narrowed down the death date for Jonas Flink to the second half of 1807: after the muster roll of June 20th, but by the end of the year.

ArkivDigital also has estate inventories (probates). I saw a statistic somewhere that only about 25 percent of the Swedish estate inventories have been preserved. But it's always worth a try to check a record set that is not complete.

To find a probate for Stora Malm, we first have to know the court that covers the parish: that's Oppunda. The inventory (bouppteckning) can be done anytime after death and most of the books are not indexed, so there are no shortcuts. Finding nothing in the 1807 book, we find the probate of Jonas Flink in the 1808-1809 book (FII:8).





We can now state that Jonas Flink died on the 23rd of August, 1807. We don't know, though, how and where he died. I'm continuing to look for those parts of the story.

Research into that time frame does reveal that the Swedish Army was heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars. Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania was under siege through most of 1807, ending with a loss to the French on the 24th of August. 

By taking the time to research and understand the unusual Swedish records, we can now say with confidence that Jonas Flink (1775-1807) was an ordinary soldier. He was not a murderer, as portrayed by a researcher who was more interested in the paycheck than in the truth.

One last question: how do we find out about the less common genealogical sources?

There are so many resources available on the internet today. A wonderful place to start is Cyndi's List, where you can find links to thousands of resources for genealogy.

I hate to suggest adding to a paper collection, but if you find there is an outstanding reference book for an area difficult to research, buy that book, even if it's paper and not an e-book.  This is especially true for research in a foreign language. As Americans, we can't expect our knowledge of America to  carry us through research in any other country.

I've nearly worn out my favorite Swedish reference book. Cradled in Sweden has long been considered as the definitive work on Swedish research and it's been close by my side through every step of my Swedish research. I've also bought maps and an English-Swedish dictionary.

It's through researching how to research that we learn about the unusual sources that might otherwise elude us.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Hat Trick - Point Two

This weekend I have three tips for the price of one:
  •     Never ignore evidence
  •     Consider unusual sources for unusual problems
  •     Even professionals get it wrong sometimes -- by accident or on purpose

Yesterday I showed how a professional misstated the death of the Swedish soldier Jonas Flink. She set his death date in November, 1805, while the correct date was in 1807.

Today, let's look at one tiny bit of evidence that she missed or ignored in the church records for Stora Malm parish in Södermanland

Returning to the 1803-1807 clerical survey, book AI:10A, let me show you the entire two-page spread for Jonas Flink and his family. It's very easy to skip over the various codes that the priests used. The same is true of American census records. Yet there are often very useful tidbits of evidence to be found by looking at every column and every page of a record.

On the first page, we see the names and birthdates for the family. The birth parish should be listed, but this minister (or clerk) did not complete the entries. The marriage column (Gift) is also not filled in. Brita's moving in year is entered, along with the parish from which she came. Of course, we see the cross in the death column for Jonas. But what are all the mysterious marks in the narrow columns?




If you're puzzled about a record, take the time to learn about unclear information. Whether in a physical book or online, there may be an explanation or legend somewhere in the book or online.

Inside the front cover of this book is found a Latin legend for the mysterious marks that measure each person's ability to read, to understand and interpret the Catechism, and to understand other aspects of the Lutheran faith.




The marks mean: bad, something, simply, well, and absolutely nothing. Thank goodness my ancestors weren't in that last category.

Moving to the second page of the record, we'll find a single piece of evidence too strong to ignore. Recall that Jonas Flink is on the first line of the pages. He could not have died in 1805 based on the little letter e in the 1806 column. But exactly what does that letter e mean?




The minister recorded when each parishioner partook of communion (Nattvarden) during the year. There is a list near the front of the book that lists the dates that communion was offered in the parish.

I certainly can't read every word, but I can tell that b was Candlemas (February 2) and g was Trinity Sunday. Working through the other Holy Days between those two days, I can derive that e was the code for the first Sunday after Easter in 1806.




Jonas Flink took communion one week after Easter in 1806, which fell on the 6th of April. There is no further contact with the minister, based on the church records. He does not appear in the clerical survey books that start in 1808. This evidence pinpoints his death as after April 13, 1806, and before 1808.

Ignoring this evidence seems to me to have been impossible for a professional researcher. As an experienced amateur, it certainly is obvious to me that one little letter is critical evidence. We can't ignore it. So where is the death record?

Tomorrow, using uncommon records to solve this uncommon problem.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Hat Trick - Point One

This weekend I have three tips for the price of one:
  • Never ignore evidence
  • Consider unusual sources for unusual problems
  • Even professionals get it wrong sometimes -- by accident or on purpose

This three-part case study revisits Sweden, but the lessons apply anywhere.

My great-great-grandmother Matilda, pictured below with her husband and three of her children, was the granddaughter of Swedish soldier Jonas Flink. You've seen that name before, as his family holds lots of lessons. And please take a moment to glance up at the blog header. The beautiful young bride was the granddaughter of Matilda and my great-aunt.


Generations digital kit from ClubScrap


The Professional Gets it Wrong


A professional Swedish researcher, Brigitta, dishonored the memory of the Soldier Jonas Flink. This series of posts is intended to restore his honor within the family and to serve as breadcrumbs for my unknown distant cousins.

One of my grandfather's cousins, Roy Fors, paid Brigitta to send him family information. She charged $60 per family in 1992. It's interesting that she was doing a fixed-price job. That leads to a desire to finish a job, rather than extend it. Yet I can understand her pricing method.

Swedish church records follow a family through births, marriages, deaths and moves. There are some gaps that can change what should be a simple lookup into a hunt. Brigitta was working with microfilm, no doubt, which made a detailed search much harder. Today those records are online, though not indexed.

Roy shared parts of her findings with the rest of the family. I received a copy of a copy in 2004. By then I was experienced in working the Swedish records and I was shocked that Brigitta did not source her work. If she had given sources to Roy, they didn't reach me, but I doubt she shared them.

If a researcher won't provide sources, do not hire them!


So part of tip three is to insist that if you pay someone for research, they owe you, at a minimum, sources for the results. Copies of records would be wonderful, too, copyright permitting.

Without sources in the family group sheets I received, they became only a point of reference for me. I set out to check the information, but soon put them away and dismissed them from my mind as I did my own research.

How and When did Jonas Flink Die?


That research hit a bump at Jonas Flink. I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out when and where he died. After breaking through to find his 1807 death, I pulled Brigitta's file to see what she had found. Her conclusion was different. I checked the data she provided and was appalled.




Brigitta gave an outright false statement about the death of Jonas Flink. I believe she made that choice as a speedy way to complete the families of Jonas and collect her fee. She seized on the death of another soldier named Jonas, who was beheaded after killing another man.

Unfortunately, she made the claim shortly before an infamous soldier by the name of Flink went on a shooting spree. For the family members who had received Brigitta's conclusion, the two men are now forever linked as murderers.

Disproving the Professional


Let's quickly disprove Brigitta's conclusion by looking at the church records for Stora Malm parish in Södermanland.

The death record in book F:1 for Soldier Jonas Stålt, age 31 on the 13th of November, 1805, is clearly not for a man named Jonas Flink.




Did both men exist? Let's rule out a name change by the military. Jonas Stålt is listed as Soldier 18 in the 1803-1807 clerical survey, book AI:10A. It's interesting to notice that there is no cross in the death (Död) column or by the name for Jonas. The minister merely struck him from the book with no extra notations.




Two pages later we find Soldier 22, Jonas Flink. The cross in the death column confirms he died between 1803 and 1807. There is no other notation about his death and he does not appear in the death book. Note that his age is one year different than the other Jonas.



At first I thought Brigitta just made an honest mistake. However, through careful examination of all the evidence, I believe there was an intentional misstatement.

Tomorrow, examining the evidence.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Have Any Brick Walls?

If you're like me, you've got plenty of genealogical brick walls. I've got them scattered from coast to coast and across the pond. Figuring out how to break through those brick walls is a challenge. That's one reason I advocate for taking advantage of learning opportunities.

The next big learning opportunity is for those of us with brick walls in the mid-Atlantic states. My own mid-Atlantic research list includes Maryland and Virginia, Delaware and the Carolinas. How about you? Can you "relate?"

I'm ready for more education. I'd like to learn more about the ancestors of these two Allen sisters from my favorite North Carolina brick wall.


Mother is a Verb kit by Krystal Hartley for Digital Scrapper, May, 2013


The next National Genealogical Society conference will be in Richmond, Virginia, from May 7-10, 2014. Meeting in Richmond means that the seminars will heavily focus on states and ethnic communities in that area of the United States. So this conference is close and pertinent for me. That doesn't always happen.

How about you? Can you spend a day or more in Richmond to learn from top-notch speakers? How does NGS compare to the cost of CKC or another scrapbooking or crafting opportunity? One day of 5 seminars costs $105-$115. All four days cost $195-$265. That compares to a cost of $25-$30 for each class at CKC.

Of course, you don't get to take home any class projects, but the knowledge and ideas will last a lifetime. There is even one session where we can merge interests: Creating Family History Books Using Digital Scrapbooking.

My top picks this spring include:
  • Organizing Your Research without Losing Your Mind
  • When the Trail Turns Cold: New Strategies for Old Problems
  • In a Rut? 7 Ways to Jump-Start Your Research 
  • Where Would You Go If You Had Five Days in Washington, DC
  • How to Overcome Brick Wall Problems in Pennsylvania German Research 
  • Are Those My Early Virginia Ancestors? Spanning Gaps and Developing Theories to Build a Possible Family Structure 
  • Three Colonies, One Peninsula: Border Disputes on Colonial Delmarva 
  • How German History Makes a Difference in Your Family History Research 
  • From the Old Dominion to the Buckeye State 
  • The Migration Triangle: Virginia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee 
  • Kentucky Land Patents: Mind Bogglers or Treasures? 
  • Inheritance Laws and Estate Settlements in the Carolinas 
  • Problem Solving in the Problem-Riddled Carolina Backcountry 
  • Genetic Genealogy Case Studies: Maximize Use of DNA Test Results 
  • From French Towns & Farms to Virginia Plantations: The Huguenots Diversified the Old Dominion's Heritage 
  • Colonial Migrations In and Out of the Shenandoah Valley

NGS conference registration opened today. Cheryl and I have our hotel room reserved and our registrations completed. Will you join us in Richmond this May?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Double the Fun with Double Cousins

Do you have any double cousins in your family tree? They are absolutely worth identifying and tracing forward.

I've got three places where double cousins appear in my tree that I know of, two of which are in my direct line. In one branch the parallel line has disappeared, but the other two are still going strong. If you look up at my header photos, part of the Maddox/Lake double cousins are at the far left, while the Allee/Lucas double cousins are in the very large family group. That just struck me rather funny, since I'm not writing about any of them today.

Double cousins are where siblings from one family marry siblings from a second family, with the resulting children being first cousins on both mother's and father's lines and having the same four grandparents. The cousins are often very close and share many of their family stories, which come down the line to their descendants.

Here's an example from my favorite confusing family, the Alexanders, who intermarried with the Maynards. There were more children in each and every one of these branches, but I just want to show the relationships.


My ancestor, Mollydine Alexander, was a double cousin to Patience Alexander and her siblings, as well as to John Maynard and his full siblings. It's called a double cousin because, for example, Molly was a cousin to Patience on the Alexander side as well as on the Maynard side.

In genealogy, the descendants of these double cousins are great partners when working on the brick walls. In the DNA world, it's very exciting to match with one. Double cousins share about as much DNA as a half-sibling, so it amps up the match potential.

I had reached out to Lenora, one of the descendants from this tree, to see if she had done a DNA test. I was hoping she would help my second cousin and me sort out some of our match information. Her email bounced, and so I lost her since our last contact several years ago.

But I'm doing the happy dance anyway. While exploring the new tools at Family Tree DNA, I found a match who is a descendant of Patience Alexander. Charlotte and I are fourth cousins who share those four people at the top of the tree. Although she's not doing genealogy, her willingness to contribute to the DNA pool will help me sort out my own matches.

The orange shows all the bits of our matching DNA at the 1cM level and above. The challenge will be to assign each of those areas to the right surname.


 

And I've updated my DNA fan chart recently -- you can see Charlotte's red marks in the right center. That's far closer in time than being outside the fan and will be of far more use than the distant cousins.



Double cousins are double the DNA, double the research opportunities -- and double the genealogy fun!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

DNA Test Types

We've seen how DNA inheritance works -- now what about the test types. What are they and why use one?

Here's a reminder of a man with his father's Y-DNA in blue Mizuhiki, his mother's mtDNA in purple Mizuhiki and his randomly inherited autosomal DNA in paper.

There are three main tests: autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA. I think the FGS2013 speaker sponsored by Ancestry explained the difference best. He told us that an autosomal test is designed to answer the question, "to whom am I related." The Y-DNA and mtDNA test are to answer the question, "am I related to you."

I've been reading a fascinating book of an adoptee's search for his father and how DNA was instrumental in his results. It's a wonderful story that tells how using two types of tests were needed to get the right answer to the mystery. He had to use both autosomal and Y-DNA tests. His book is Finding Family by Richard Hill.

The AncestryDNA test and the Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) Family Finder are both autosomal tests. A bunch of people take tests and the computers compare my DNA to that of everyone else. The best matches come to the top and it's up to me and my matches to figure out how we're related. The autosomal matching is most useful up to about 6 generations. After that, it quickly loses its usefulness. Autosomal tests seem to have settled at $99 right now.

Y-DNA and mtDNA are passed down fairly intact for many generations, though there are occasional  mutations. Both of these tests can be done at different levels of thoroughness and different prices. The more expensive the option, the more useful they are. However, they are very narrow in terms of what they tell us.

The Y-DNA test is used to compare DNA of men who share a surname to determine relationships and ancestry. Men who are adopted or in doubt of their parentage can use this test to look for the answers. One of the FGS2013 speakers who manages a surname project recommends the 67-marker level, currently priced at $268 at FTDNA.

The mtDNA test is fuzzier in my mind. I've recently upgraded my own from the basic test I took in 2005 to the "full sequence." When I see how it helps, I'll report back. The full sequence at FTDNA is currently $199.

I recently ordered for my father a kit from FTDNA. I paid for both an autosomal test and an mtDNA test. But I didn't order a Y-DNA test. Let me explain why I made the choices.

1. Autosomal. Because autosomal matching is only effective for a few generations, I can add one more generation of effectiveness for a fairly low price point. I will also be able to tell which of my own matches come from which side of my tree.

2. Y-DNA. My father's male line -- father-to-father -- is well documented back into Sweden. By the time we get back a few generations, the surname starts changing due to the use of patronymics. Our current surname is somewhat common in Sweden, but we are not related to many people who have the same name. Because Y-DNA is passed intact down the male line, it will be possible in the future to test my brother or nephews if we ever feel the need. So I chose to avoid this pricey test.

3. mtDNA. This choice is complicated to explain. I don't have a particular reason to test my father's mtDNA. We are fairly sure of his female ancestry, due to my own autosomal matches. However, recall that mtDNA is passed only mother to child and never father to child. My dad carries his mother's mtDNA. There are only four other living people with that same (known) mtDNA: two living uncles, a male cousin and one female cousin, who has no children. At the death of those five people, my paternal grandmother's mtDNA will be lost forever. So I paid for the test just to be sure I've captured it.

Another FGS2013 speaker asked the rhetorical question, why we do DNA testing. The answer that popped into my head (as well as hers) is "because we can."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Extending the Paper DNA Family

A few posts back I demonstrated DNA inheritance with scrapbook paper. However, I only showed the inheritance of autosomal DNA, the bits and pieces of our chromosomes that we inherit from our parents in random ways. Today I'll expand the concept to show Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, known as mtDNA.

Let's start with mtDNA. The way I understand it, mitochondria provides energy to our cells. The
mitochondria has it's own DNA. mtDNA is passed from mother to daughter and mother to son.

Here's Miss Rose with her red strand of mtDNA, or a piece of Mizuhiki Cord. She'll pass that mtDNA to all her children.

Her husband, Mr Brown has a wide blue strand of mtDNA that came from his mother, but he can't pass that on to his children.

Mr Brown also has some blue Mizuhiki Cord. That's the Y-DNA he inherited from his father. Miss Rose doesn't have any Y-DNA because that Y chromosome is what makes an individual a man. Mr Brown will pass his Y-DNA to his sons, but not his daughters.

Got that? Now let's look at a pictorial tree of the Paper Family. Son Brown marries Miss Vines and Daughter Brown marries Mr Black. Each of those couples has one son and one daughter. What Y-DNA and mtDNA will those grandchildren have?


Notice that Granddaughter Black has Miss Rose's mtDNA while Grandson Brown has Mr Brown's Y-DNA, as does son Brown.

Next time: the DNA testing options.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Just Happened?


It appears that the blogger website just choked on my posts. Was that a payback because I posted about computer glitches? It ruined my one post a day effort, too.

So just for fun and to get back on track (I hope), how about a heritage layout?

This is my grandmother on a lovely digital page from Scrap Girls. This page is built with components from Vintage Album templates and Vintage Paper by Syndee Nuckles. Flowers from the Reverie kit by Irene V. Alexeeva (now retired).


 

Disaster Planning for the Paper Collector

An emailed advertisement arrived recently for a $30 webinar on disaster planning for genealogists. Huh? $30? Don't pay it and don't spend your time that way. There are plenty of free ideas for disaster planning. I'll even throw in my 2 cents worth for free. September is disaster preparedness month, so let's think about the unthinkable.

I've been involved in disaster planning and disaster recovery over the course of my career. One of the interesting factoids I saw is that only 3 percent of the events that impact business are actual disasters. 97 percent of business impacts are due to a problem that affects the continuity of the business. I think that's true for us, too.

We need to plan for the 3 percent, but it's the 97 percent that is more likely. I can even think of one event that has a 100 percent chance of occurring to each of us. More on that later.

Start by thinking about your environment. What's more likely, a leaky roof or a tornado? A kitchen fire or a forest fire? A flooded basement or a river carrying your home away? A tree falling on your home or a hurricane? A computer crash or a computer theft?

How do you protect your precious photos, research papers, computer files and scrapbook albums? I'm not advocating trying to protect unused scrapbook paper, but that might even be important to you.

First prepare for the ordinary problems that I listed.

Planning for the 97 Percent

  • Make sure you have fire extinguishers in your kitchen, workshop, garage, near your grill, etc. Check them periodically and replace them as needed. 
  • Smoke detectors. Enough said.
  • Look at the ceiling over your precious possessions. Could a leak drip on those photos? Figure out how to shield them. Mine are all under at least one shelf and many are also in plastic cases.
  • Are those genealogical files stored in the basement? Can you move them to a higher area of your home?
  • Walk around your home periodically. Are your trees healthy? Is one leaning? A friend had a large leaning tree that simply fell down on a clear, windless day. She was lucky that it missed the house and cars. We're not all going to be that lucky. Get rid of those leaning and unhealthy trees near your home.
  • If forest fire is a concern, get the recommended space cleared around your home. I think it's something like 30 feet all around. This is a big and potentially costly effort, but it can save your home and your life.
  • Is your computer backed up? Are there backups somewhere else besides your home? This electronic preparedness is what I want to focus on, because it is the best way to fully protect photos and files from any disaster.

Beth's Step One: Scan, Scan, Scan


If you've been a longtime follower, you know my step one for scrapping heritage photos is to scan them. If you're scanning photos, slides and paper files, you're got a great start on disaster preparedness. But once the images are on your computer, they need to be backed up somewhere else besides just your computer. And you need a backup that is away from your home.

Off-site Backups


If you are uploading images to web sites, you've got those images backed up far from your home. There are also free and paid backup websites for backing up part or all of your computer. However, there's a risk. Using websites to store your information works as long as the web site stays in business and lets you leave the stuff there.

My strategy is to make a copy of my files about once a year and give that copy to my brother, who lives nowhere near me. I used to give him a CD, then it became a DVD. The most recent copy was on a USB flash drive.

I also keep a full computer backup in case of a crash. That backup is kept in my home. I've had data loss due to computer and software crashes, but never due to a disaster. For me, computer crashes are near the top of my probable events. But one other thing is number one on my probable events.

Planning for the 100 Percent


One event that businesses plan for, but we prefer not to, is the loss of a key employee. Businesses have succession planning. We need to do succession planning for our very own disability and death.

Who is our successor? How will our work be preserved? Who will have access to our websites and the valuable data and contacts stored there?

Take a moment to check out a sample genealogical codicil to your will. Family Tree DNA offers the ability to set up a succession plan for use of your data stored at their website. I hope we'll see more websites offering that in the near future.

I keep a list of important websites and my logons to each one. I update it periodically. It's sealed and stored in a private place. It is to go to my brother or daughter at my death (or total disability).

Think about how you want your valued possessions preserved at your death. Don't put it off, though I know just how hard it is to face our own mortality.

I'll leave you with a cautionary story about putting off thinking about death.

My beloved grandmother was dying of terminal cancer. Along with her and my mother, I wrote her obituary. Both of them were writers, so it was a bittersweet time of remembrance and yet a fun time of getting three creative minds into agreement. When we finished, we expressed to the gathered family that we each need to write our own obituary while we're alive.

About 18 hours after that, my mother had a debilitating stroke. She no longer had the ability to express her thoughts. She died 10 days after that stroke took her verbal capabilities. As a published writer, you know she would have wanted to write her own obituary. Instead I had to do it, working along with my grandmother and father.

So please join me in planning now for the one sure event we all have to face.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Courthouse Visits -- the Good, the Bad and the Amazing

Having had a couple of bad courthouse experiences over the years, I've been pondering about what can make a courthouse visit good or bad. So here's what's running around in my head.

Bad:

  • Lack of a website
  • Poorly communicated rules
  • Poorly communicated list of off-site records
  • Only one person can access certain records
  • Rude employees
  • Poor copying capability
  • Tight workspace
  • Jumbled records
Good courthouse in Pickaway County, Ohio

Good:

  • Friendly employees
  • Informative website
  • Organized records
  • Knowledgeable employees
  • Adequate space to stand and open a ledger
  • Good copier and employees being available to make copies

Amazing:

  • Open access to vault(s)
  • A work table and chair
  • Helpful employees
  • Making your own copies on an easy to use copier

Rarely does any courthouse meet every point on the good or amazing list. Working in tight quarters with employees and other researchers is probably the most common issue. As long as everyone is friendly, that challenge can be tolerated.

I've differentiated the employee traits for a reason. Friendliness is a must. Knowledgeable employees would be those who know where things are and how to interpret abbreviations. Helpful employees are those who suggest record sets about which I may not know.

One of the most helpful employees that I've encountered even went out of her way to assist me last year in the amazing courthouse in Surry County, North Carolina. I'd found a deed that referenced a water course and I wanted to find that creek on a map. I went from the spacious (amazing) table where I was working to the front counter to ask the question. The person with whom I talked didn't know the answer and I wasn't really surprised. They can't know every creek. I went back to the deed books to continue researching.

About 30 minutes later one of the clerks walked over to me with a small map in her hand. She'd been unable to break away from her work earlier, but she knew exactly where the creek was and showed me on the map. I was able to copy that little map on the (amazing) copier where I was running a tab (amazing). It was definitely an amazing visit.

Don't let bad courthouse experiences discourage you. The amazing courthouse may be the next one you visit.
 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Binary Search

Have you ever done a binary search? Yes, it's a computer term, but I bet you've done it without knowing what it is. I did one during FGS 2013 at the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and thought I'd share the concept.

One of my ancestors was injured in a work accident in the Chicago area and I'd like to learn more about it. I've heard two different versions in family legends. Searching newspaper archives by name and location has not turned up an article.

In the 1900 census, Walter McFarlane was a "motorman", most likely on the streetcars. In 1910, he was a night watchman at a cemetery. His injury had left him brain-damaged and able to do only menial work. The period from 1900 to 1910 is a huge time span for searching Chicago newspapers.

The ACPL has Chicago city directories on microfilm. If they had been books, I would have looked at each one in order to see Walter's job. But it takes a lot longer to load film and then find the right page.

A binary search says to go to the middle of the span being searched. So I first checked 1905, which said watchman. I just eliminated half the years.

Split the difference between 1900 and 1905, I chose 1902. Motorman.
Split the difference between 1902 and 1905. I chose 1904. Motorman.

City directory information is gathered some time before publication. But I now know that the injury occurred sometime during or after the compilation of the 1904 directory and before the compilation of the 1905 directory.

I found that by looking at only three microfilms. Going in order through each one, I would have looked at five.

If you've done a binary search, you now know the name for it. If not, I hope you have a new idea that might apply to one of your research opportunities.
 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Courthouses Gone Bad

Did you know that I live and work in the baddest county in North Carolina? That's our reputation, whether deserved or not. But apparently the residents of Central Illinois are far worse, to the point of being uncontrollable. I would expect that in Chicago or New York, but certainly not in Central Illinois.

I had done all my preparation work to visit courthouses in Illinois. I'd read through courthouse websites and verified hours and locations. Something I did not find for any of the five courthouses was a list of prohibited items. We all know that weapons are not allowed in any courthouse. I'm fine with that, but apparently new rules are popping up.

Arriving at the door of the Morgan County courthouse, I found a sign stating no cellphones were allowed. This was new since my last visit. I talked with the deputy on duty, then slipped out and surreptitiously left my phone in the car. This didn't please me, as I am responsible 24/7/365 to my own county of employment if something goes wrong with key computer systems (including the jury system, ironically). But if I wanted to read those probate files, I had to abide by the rules.

The next morning I checked out of my hotel in Decatur, Illinois, and proceeded to the Macon County courthouse. I anticipated the cell phone ban and had locked that in the car. But at security I was confronted with an unbelievable, unprinted, unposted, undocumented ban. The deputy told me verbally that the Macon County courthouse does not allow computers or other electronic equipment to be brought in by the public. I was stunned and flabbergasted. This was not on the courthouse web site. This was not even posted at the door.

This ban destroyed my well-laid plans for that morning. I was not about to lock hundreds of dollars of computer equipment in my car in full view of the courthouse. Nor did I have paper notes prepared. Thus I was not able to look at those old guardianship records and naturalization records. Having paid once to visit the town, I'll now have to pay again for a local researcher to go do that research for me.

This definitely left me with a very unfavorable view of Macon County, Illinois. It is now number one on my disliked county courthouse list (Ross County, Ohio, moves to number two).

When I returned to my home county in North Carolina, I sat down with one of the experts on our own jury system. I asked what rules our courthouse has for the public. I work in the administration building and have never had to go to the courthouse (did I hear a jury notice just hit my mailbox -- I'm certainly tempting fate).

A citizen in the baddest county in North Carolina is welcome to bring their laptop, tablet and/or phone into the courthouse. The jury waiting room has public wi-fi for the use of the jurors. When a citizen enters a courtroom, the phones and computers must be turned off.

Apparently we in a Southern city are more polite and respectful than the farmers in Central Illinois.

The moral of this story is that courthouse rules are ever changing. Had I called ahead, I could have delayed my hotel checkout, left the electronics there and done the 90 minutes of research per my plan.

So be sure to call ahead to find out what's banned before visiting a courthouse.
 

Monday, September 23, 2013

DNA Inheritance in Pictures

One of the speakers at FGS 2013 caught my attention through a very elaborate series of drawings demonstrating DNA inheritance. Debbie Parker Wayne has an interesting blog where she discusses DNA, along with other genealogical topics.

I recently shared Debbie's concept with a friend, but I used scrapbook paper, since we were cropping together that day. She gave me these POPS to use from the Club Scrap Simply Beautiful kit (and remix).



Let me introduce you to a lovely couple: Mr Brown and Miss Rose.

They passed bits and pieces of their DNA to their child.



Here's another couple: Mr Green and Miss Vines.

And here's their child.



The two children in turn, marry and have a child of their own. The child inherits bits of DNA from each parent (and grandparent). It's not an exact 25 percent from each grandparent, but rather, random inheritance.

In fact even full siblings will inherit different DNA from each other, which leads to the differences we see within families.



Of course, using these random strips of paper DNA, we find we have a Simply Beautiful grandchild -- I mean card front -- like none other in the world.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Digging for Courthouse Treasure

Ever since I learned, though this newspaper clipping, that our Maddox family legend about a murder was true, I wanted to find out the story behind the legend. As I researched the story, I decided that I wanted to write a fictionalized account as a book.




Unfortunately, there's a gaping hole in the court records. The murder case dragged on for years, with each session of the circuit court continuing the case until the next session. Suddenly, at the end of 1874, the case file just stops without telling what happened.

One of the men had left the state. But were either of the two remaining men convicted of murder? Were they acquitted? Did the state drop the charges? Inquiring minds want to know.

In August, I returned for my third visit to the scene of the trial in Scott County, Illinois. The opportunity to do so was a big part of rescheduling my Illinois research trip to add three days. Priority number one was to find the missing puzzle piece in the courthouse.

Many of the old records are housed in a special vault. It's lined with brick, protected by a double metal door and is dark and musty. Disturbing the old books raised dust and mold, which made me sneeze and sent one allergic worker to an early lunch.

On previous visits, I thought that my cousin Lorna and I had covered everything of interest, but there just had to be more. I dug more deeply into the deed books and, when I was done, had found no new information pertinent to the murder. I had collected some other notes about family members, so it had been time well spent.

I walked the narrow aisles of the small vault, just looking at the record sets. What about mortgages? I knew I hadn't looked at them. I found where the family had signed multiple promissory notes to their lawyers, using the farm as collateral. I knew the lawyers had forced foreclosure, but now I saw the details of how the finances worked for the trial: who was owed how much and why.

But what else? I still needed to know the verdict or verdicts. I was tired and hungry, but I knew the answer had to be somewhere in this courthouse. There were some very narrow books at floor level near the back of the vault. What were they? In desperation I pulled my small flashlight from my purse and shone it on the spines.

Paydirt! 


The books were Court Dockets, labelled by year. I looked for 1874 and 1875, but couldn't find exactly what I wanted. Some books were even blocked by other shelves. But I did find a couple of books for the right time frame. I'm sorry to say that in my excitement, I don't recall exactly which book showed what, but I do believe the 1874 answer was written in a book labelled as either 1873 or 1875.

I've shown you a court docket entry before, so I won't show you this one. I do have to keep a little bit of mystery about the end of the story. But the point of this post is that obscure record sets can flesh out the stories of our ancestors. You have to be willing to dig deep and not just look online and in the library.

Court dockets aren't exciting or sexy. It's just names of plaintiffs and defendants, dates, case dispositions, court costs, etc. This docket gave me three lines: the date the jury was seated to try the main defendant, the date the jury returned and their verdict, and the disposition of the case against the remaining co-defendant.

Someday dockets might be digitized and indexed, but don't hold your breath. I think they'll be near the bottom of the priority list. I'm sure that the Scott County record keepers thought they were useless, thus placing some in such a way as to be inaccessible. However, this is the third time I've found dockets to be informative: once for a divorce and twice for criminal cases.

What Next?


So now that I have the final piece of the murder mystery, I can write the book. But should I? As books disappear from shelves and stores, it seems I wouldn't want to publish in paper form. And I'm not much good at writing fiction. It's probably more challenge than I want to tackle.

My thinking now is to write a series of biographical sketches on the key players and their extended families. I can "publish" the sketches via Ancestry and/or Family Search and can compile them as a PDF book to share with family. This approach is more in keeping with the way we share and research today and yet can be the sort of research book that has helped me along my own journey to find the story behind the family legend.
 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

DNA Fan Chart

One of the challenges with our DNA match tracking is how to visualize the results. At FGS 2013, a speaker representing AncestryDNA demonstrated an interesting way to see those matches on a fan chart.

I've adopted his approach and placed a dot at the common ancestor(s) for each confirmed match. There aren't enough generations on this lovely fan chart from ClubScrap's Generations digital kit, so the furthest matches show the line associated to the match.


Why are there clusters of distant matches? In each and every case, tenacious researchers have written and published a book about a family group in America in the 1700s. Those books then have been used by genealogists like myself to connect with earlier generations. DNA matching now lets us connect to those distant cousins.

With the move to online trees, I fear this type of book will no longer be written, leaving us to search through dozens of unsourced trees to find the occasional nugget. We won't see the interrelationship with other families in the community cluster -- the relationships that often lead to solutions for tough genealogy problems. DNA may become ever more important to our search.
  

Friday, September 20, 2013

A World Without Books

"Browse the stacks", suggested a librarian, speaking at FGS 2013. The thought that popped into my head was "while you still can." It's amazing how far we've come in the past few years with online records and books.

Did you see the news clip about the library that recently opened in San Antonio? It's a library without any books. It's all about computers and e-books and tablets and e-readers. Someday that will be normal, rather than newsworthy.

As genealogists, we're moving our own records out of folders and binders into computers and online trees. We're part of the digital movement, too. We research from the comfort of our homes at any hour of the day or night.

But there are benefits to books. I love to walk into a library to research a county and just look in the stacks to see what the holdings are for that county. I can prioritize which books for that county should be looked at first. I can pull out a book to see if it's indexed. I can look at drawings or photos that would elude me in an online database of the same book.

The speaker went on to suggest working in one record set at a time when doing online research. That makes sense. It would be like looking at one book at a time. The additional thought that came to my mind is to look at the front matter and the index if the record set is a published book. A few minutes in the index could turn up unknown relatives or an unexpected fact.

That was reinforced to me while researching in Macon County, Illinois last month. You may recall that I'm looking for information about a woman whose marriage record was spelled Breitwacher. I had decided that the spelling was likely Breitwieser. In the historical society, I was looking at an index to transcribed Militia Rolls and couldn't find my ancestor. I went to the letters "Br" and there found William Bradspreacher. That's spelled Breitsprecher in other military records. I think this is the right name. But I would never have found this information while searching by name.

I've embraced the digital age and I need to remember to analyze online books more like the paper version. But I still want to explore real books. Before my area libraries get rid of all their books, I need to browse some stacks. All those lovely Pennsylvania books sitting an hour away in Raleigh come to mind. Who'd think I could research Pennsylvania in North Carolina!

I challenge you to find out what useful resources are in a library near you. Do you have some stacks to browse?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Love Your Society

During my recent research trip, I visited the libraries of three local genealogical societies. The volunteers who manage and run these facilities are such a blessing to the genealogical community.

One of the most valuable services that most societies provide is the obituary collection. They clip or copy the obituaries from local papers, index them and file them. I was amazed to find an obituary for a female ancestor who died in 1879. I never would have looked at microfilm for it, but it was in the index of the local society. What a special find!

From each society, I walked away with copies of obituaries for previously unknown cousins. Two of the societies had information that taught me about churches that my ancestors might have attended. At two of them, I was able to find new information in their microfilm collections.

At the society in tiny Versailles, Illinois, I was browsing the surname books on the shelves. I hesitated at Icenogle and started to pull it out, then slid it back in. The gentleman who runs the library asked why I was interested.

A dear friend is an Icenogle descendant, and I had done some research for her on another line. But I didn't want to get distracted from my mission. The man told me he was also an Icenogle descendant and had written the book on the shelf. We looked, and my friend's branch isn't in his book. I gave him some information that I had and took his card to share with my friend. What an amazing coincidence!

Something all local societies need is money. Many ask for a donation when you use their library. I try to give more than they ask. See if they are selling a book, newsletter or merchandise that would be useful to you. Buy something, become a member or donate generously. I did something to support each of the three, because I love these local societies and want them to survive.

Friday, September 6, 2013

What's a Traveler to Do?

I'm home from my genealogy trip to Illinois and Indiana and finally getting back to normal. I had to replace a broken phone and a weary car in the past week, too. Four days of research followed by three days of conference left me overwhelmed with papers and information. Where to start? Day one, I suppose.

A last-minute itinerary change added three research days to the start of the trip, but the first one was Sunday. That got me thinking about how to benefit from field research on a Sunday during a genealogy trip. The courthouse is closed. Many libraries, archives and genealogy societies are also closed on Sunday.

So here are some other ideas:
  • Find an ancestral home or farm
  • Find an ancestral neighborhood
  • Visit a church your ancestors attended
  • Eat where the locals eat and start a conversation
  • Buy and read the local newspaper
  • Visit ancestral cemeteries
  • Look in the phone book for relatives and call them
  • Check nearby cities for open libraries

Some indirect choices:
  • Make Sunday a travel day
  • Take care of yourself -- massage, laundry, extra sleep, exercise
  • Review and organize files, whether paper or on the computer
  • Research on the internet, focusing on the local area
  • Be a genealogy angel and take cemetery photos for websites such as FindAGrave

My Sunday turned into a lucky day. I discovered that the St. Louis County Library genealogy department houses the book collection of the National Genealogical Society. Since my new itinerary had me flying into that city on Saturday evening, I delayed my travel to Illinois and spent four hours Sunday afternoon in the library, doing Kentucky research. After closing time, a two-hour drive took me to the next stop in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Oh, yes, I also slept in, went shopping, had Starbucks, organized thoughts, and even did a little laundry. It was a pleasant Sunday, indeed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Notes From the Field

Overheard at FGS 2013:

Incredulously, "Your mother worked at the WHAT house?"

Rejoinder, "That was the COURT house, COURT!!"

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I Have Matches -- Now What

I just had a chat with someone who is right behind me on the DNA journey, but is feeling lost. So today I'll share some progress.

The tools at each DNA web site are different than the others, but the end goal is the same: connection with cousins. Ancestry is missing a key tool that can be found at GedMatch and at Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). That tool is the chromosome browser or chromosome comparison.

I was contacted by a gentleman that I'll call John. He is in my match list both at GedMatch and at FTDNA and he's been working with DNA for quite a while. I have part of my tree available at FTDNA and he had checked it out. His family and mine had intermarried in Weakley County, Tennessee, during the late 1800s. We don't see a common ancestor yet, though we know we must have one. But what does our DNA tell us?

Looking at GedMatch, he's near the top of my match list with an estimate of 4.2 generations to our common ancestor. His kit number is on the left and his email on the right. I've hidden both of those items. He and I don't have any X-chromosome (#23) DNA in common. But our Autosomal DNA (#1-22) has a fairly large matching area.




Let's do a chromosome review at both GedMatch and FTDNA.

GedMatch shows us, in blue, several areas where we have matches within different chromosomes. It's larger on the screen. This is just small so I can show more of the matching areas.




Here's the FTDNA match list, where John is the second one. He has an email address, a tree at FTDNA and I can add a note. Some of his his surnames are shown and I can also see which DNA tests he has done.




In the chromosome browser, I select John (in orange). This browser shows only the larger match. I was able to find several other people in my match list with a very similar matching pattern. The gray areas are not used in matching. At the top, I can download the matches to Excel so I can see the numbers.




OK, we have matching DNA. So what? My first question to John was what he knew about the source of that section of shared DNA.

John has worked with several of those matches over the past few months and they can't find the common ancestor. I'm new to the game, but I bring some new surnames to explore. We have a location to focus on, which John said they didn't have before. I also knew more about my family than John did and he taught me things about his family. Together, we have a clearer picture of how our families relate.

If John and I can find our common ancestor, everyone who matches us on that piece of DNA will suddenly know what they are looking for. We'll be able to say that segment came from our ancestor X. Anyone who matches that location in the future can be advised to look for their connection to ancestor X and their parents and siblings. Others may be able to help refine the source of the DNA as the mother of X or father of X.

The chromosome browsers are interesting, but useless by themselves. The payoff is when you find the connection to that common ancestor X.

What's the strategy? Work the closest matches first. Review trees. Send emails. Ask if they know about the common ancestor in the DNA segments where you match. When you find the common ancestor, document the DNA segments and look for others that match those segments. Then reach out to those others to let them know what you've found. And, of course, hope others will let you know when they unpuzzle a match.

I sent such an email the other day. I searched on a particular surname, found a match, found the common ancestor couple in his tree, then used the chromosome browser. I looked for others with a matching segment and emailed a woman to share what I found. I now have a list of 8 DNA segments that associate to two surnames. The largest is on chromosome 22 from 41311622 to 44012037. It's up to me to keep track of those numbers and the associated surnames. I'm looking for a way to do it, but Excel is what I'm using for now.

I hope that example is simple enough to follow. Let me know.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ethnicity Through DNA -- Revisited

Earlier this year I shared my questionable ethnicity analysis as provided through AncestryDNA. The more I work with the DNA tools online, the more disappointed I am with Ancestry. So I paid to import my Ancestry DNA map into Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), as well as importing it into the free GedMatch website.

Of the various tools, I like what's currently available in GedMatch for ethnicity evaluation. For me, it has provided several ways to look at my ethnic background and to figure out for myself what fits. The best part is that it is free. As one of my friends says:

Free is in my price range!

First let's look at the AncestryDNA ethnic breakdown and then at one of the models from GedMatch.


Quite a difference! GedMatch lets me put my DNA map through a number of ethnicity models where my DNA is compared with control samples from other countries. That's called admixture. There is no one admixture that tells me all I want to know. By looking at all of them, I found several that flagged my Native American ethnicity, as well as refining European and Asian roots.

Here's a look at a 13-ethnic group test that shows Native American. It doesn't analyze the various European areas in depth, as the 36-group test above did. Nor does the pie chart show the Native American or other small percentages.




All of this requires analysis and thought. It's not as simple as the Ancestry model pretends.

I'll be writing a lot more about DNA. If you're working with DNA genealogy, be sure to check out the DNA Explained blog for explanations, tips, tricks and forms. It's a great resource that I'm leaning on in my own journey to understanding DNA.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sad Task

One of the saddest things that I do as a genealogist is to enter into the database the death information for a family member with whom I have a personal relationship. This week I had to do such a task. Because just after death is a highly risky time for identity theft, I'm not going to share any other information about this huge loss in my extended family.

As a tribute to this man, here's one of our World War II veterans who served in the Pacific Theater.

Liberty digital kit by Michelle Coleman for Digital Scrapper (formerly Scrapper's Guide)


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 12

It's the last day of planning for the research trip to Macon County, Illinois, and it's the hardest. I have listed repositories and records, family events and national events, land location and maps. In the background I've been probing online web sites, including Ancestry, for new clues. That's all been easy -- it's just putting one foot in front of the other.

Now it's time to state the questions with potential records to answer each one. Then prioritize the record sets and repositories. It is possible that I may not finish in the one day allotted, so I need to see the more important records first.

  1. Where did George come from and when did he immigrate?
    Land purchase, naturalization, declaration of intent
  2. Did the 1870 census correctly state his age?
    Militia roll, draft registration, probate
  3. Who were his family members?
    Probate/will, land sale, bankruptcy, guardianship, chancery
  4. Was George married before 1862 and if so, were there children?
    Probate, guardianship, early births, land sale
  5. Did George own land in 1870, was it his wife's or was he leasing?
    Land purchase, land sale, bankruptcy, probate, tax
  6. When did George die? When did his wives die?
    Probate, land sale, death records, Bible records, school records, tax
  7. What happened to the children? Did they go to George's relatives or Elizabeth's or neither?
    Probate, guardianship, school records
  8. Is there more information underlying the marriage register?
    Marriage records
  9. Is there burial information?
    Probate, death records, cemetery lists

Now that the key record sets are listed, group them by repository and prioritize.

The Clerk of the Court opens earliest, at 8 AM, so that's first. The records to find:
  • Naturalization
  • Chancery
  • Probate/will indexes
  • Guardianship
  • Bankruptcy

Next stop is the County Recorder.
  • Land purchase
  • Land sale

If it is before 10 AM, go to the County Clerk's office. Otherwise go to the Decatur Genealogical Society, which opens at 10 AM. They have lots of indexes and close a bit earlier than the County Clerk. Records to review:
  • Bibles
  • Militia Rolls
  • Probate Packets
  • Birth index
  • Death index
  • Cemetery Books
  • Tax records
  • County History books
  • School records?

Possibly end the day at the County Clerk's office, if there is an outstanding vital record to obtain. Make sure to leave DGS early enough to get there by 4 PM. Records:
  • Marriage
  • Birth
  • Death

I hope this series has given you some ideas about your own research. I really enjoyed doing it because now nearly everything I might need to refer to is in this series of blog posts that I can pull up wherever I am. Bet you didn't think of that!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 11

The end of the trip planning approaches. I've found out everything I can about resources in Macon County, Illinois. I've listed the family events that occurred there. What about local and nation events that may have impacted the family between 1860 and 1880? Time to make a list.

Diphtheria outbreaks in Illinois: 1860, 1867, 1872, 1876-1881

1861 Civil War begins
1862 Homestead Act
1863 Draft riots in NYC
1865 Civil War ends
1867 The Grange is founded
1869 First Transcontinental Railroad is completed
1871 Chicago fire
1873 Nation-wide long depression begins with Panic of 1873
1873 Cholera outbreak in Central Illinois
1875 Specie Payment Resumption Act (gold standard)
1877 Railroad strike
1878 Bland–Allison Act (silver dollars)
1879 End of long depression

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 10

Earlier in this series I mentioned reviewing the links and content for Macon County, Illinois, at the FamilySearch website. After reading the content and following links, I found nothing new.

The next step was to review the Macon County page at USGenWeb. If you haven't visited USGenWeb, make sure to do that. Check back from time to time, as county resources change frequently. Contribute your information, too. I used to do more of that, but have slacked off. Shame on me. UsGenWeb grows through the information we share.

I also learned nothing new from UsGenWeb, but I can cross that off the list for this trip.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 9

While researching the records and repositories of Macon County, Illinois, I found an extremely interesting tidbit. The County Recorder's office maintains a real estate tract index. This is an uncommon, yet useful record set.

In some states, the County Recorder is known as the Register of Deeds. It's the same thing.

What's a Tract Index?


In most counties, you look up transactions for your ancestor's land (or your land) in indexes based on surname. I'll discuss those indexes another time. Suffice it to say that surnames were often read or written incorrectly, so the indexes can be a challenge.

A tract index is an index to all transactions for a place. Once you've identified the property your ancestor owned, all the transactions are indexed in a single book or series of books. It can be a very fast way to move through the deeds and mortgages for the land.

For example, one of my ancestors homesteaded land in Monroe County, Wisconsin, another county with a tract index. This will confuse you if you are new to land records, but hang on for why this matters with a tract index. Here are my notes about his land.

The land description for the original cash entry (Oct 30, 1857) is shown by BLM as:
  The S 1/2 of SW 1/4 of sec 13 T15N R3W
  and the NW 1/4 of NW 1/4 of sec 24 T15 N R3W
  and the NE 1/4 of N/E 1/4 of sec 23 T15N R3W
  total 160 acres
The land description for the homestead entry (1868) is shown by BLM as:
   W 1/2 of NW 1/4 of sec 30 T15N R2W, 66.1 acres.
He said he owned adjoining land:
   SE 1/4 of NE 1/4 of sec 25 T15N R3W
   and S 1/2 of S 1/2  of NE 1/4 of NE 1/4 of sec 25 T15N R3W

Several years ago I drew this out before I visited the county. Here's the scribbled version I ended up with after the visit. The dark lines separate the sections, while the red line separates the township names and the "ranges". The lighter lines separate the four quarter sections within a section. Notice all the legal descriptions talk about the northeast quarter or the southwest quarter, etc.




Let's look at just the yellow area, the land he bought in 1857. He owned land in three different sections of the township, yet it all was adjoining. Regardless of the section numbers, the land was in three different quarter sections. Each and every one of those quarter sections has its own index book(s): the tract index. All the transactions for one quarter section, for all owners and all parcels are indexed in that book.

So let's assume he sold all the yellow-coded land at the same time. There would be only one deed of sale in the deed books, but it would have been entered in the indexes at least five times:
  1. in each of the three tract index books
  2. under his name as the seller (grantor index)
  3. under the name of the buyer (grantee index)
If the buyer had been two men, such as John Jones and James Jones, both names may have been indexed, which would lead to a sixth index entry. Some counties index all parties under a single name, while other counties index them separately.

In this case, using the tract indexes may have been faster or slower when I was researching. With so many different parcels of land, I spent most of one day looking at land records.

Back to Macon County Planning


The reason the tract index is important for Macon County is that my German ancestor's name is very often misspelled. Generally land records are the most reliable for spelling, but if they couldn't understand him, they might have the wrong spelling. I think he owned some land, based on the 1870 census, but I'm not sure. So before heading to the courthouse I want to determine where that land would have been.

I went through a map exercise recently with using landowner maps to validate a newspaper article about this ancestor. So let's take another look at the map showing the area where he lived for the 1870 census and again in 1875 for the newspaper article. If he owned any part of the land in 1870, he had sold it or lost it to a creditor by the time the plat maps were drawn in 1874.




Can you see where the sections and quarter sections are for Forstmeyer's farm? The section numbers are hard to see, but they are 7 on the top and 18 on the bottom. The farm is in the southeast quarter of section 7 and the northeast quarter of section 18. When I review the 1870 census, I see that my ancestor claimed to own land about one third the size of Hostetter, and of course he lived next door, based on the census taker's route. I think that is likely to be the southern part of the tract held by Forstmeyer in 1874.

So I can look in the index books under Forstmeyer, Vossler (my ancestor), Fassler, Fessler, Fossler, Bassler, etc. You see my problem? Or I can look in the tract index for the Northeast quarter (NE 1/4) of section 18 (sec 18) township 16 north (T16N) range 2 east (R2E) of the 3rd Principal Meridian (3 PM) for deeds between 1870 and 1874.

Just to complete my thinking on this land search, let's see a legal description of land in that area. Visiting the general land office records search page for Bureau of Land Management, I can search based on the information I just listed above and see the list of the original land owners in section 18. Picking one, we can see the patent document with the full legal description of the land he purchased. And that's the end of this musing on land records.



Sunday, July 28, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 8

I've collected the repository information and hours for Macon County, Illinois. Now I need to make sure I know how to get to each place.

I don't have a GPS, though I might get one in my rental car. My best preparation is to collect maps and add them to my planning document. I also want to orient myself before I go. Google maps and Google street view are my favorite resources.

For the maps, I can print them out, or I can grab screen shots and put them into my document. I do either or both, making sure I have clear diagrams for the streets around each repository: library, genealogical society, circuit court building, county office building.

Get Oriented


I zoom in to see downtown business names. Where are restaurants and, more importantly, where can I find coffee? There's no Starbucks in downtown, but I do see a coffee shop and bakery.

Next I put Google maps into satellite view to examine the downtown area. Where are the parking lots? I look around each location carefully. I need to plan on a little bit of walking as the three downtown resources are spaced out 2-3 blocks apart.

Google Maps and Street View


Last I use street view to virtually visit each location. Since one of my friends didn't know about it, I'll assume others may also be wondering what in the world I'm talking about.

Let's take a look at the Decatur Public Library. First open Google maps and type in the address to find it. Zoom to a comfortable level to see the street names.

See the little man on the left, just over the + and - zoom buttons? When you zoom in close enough, he becomes orange and then he can take you to street view. Hover over him and you can see him want to leave his box.




Click on him and hold the button down and pull him towards the map marker. Every street that can be seen in street view will turn blue. Not all streets are available in all places, but Decatur is certainly well-covered. Notice the area around the legend at bottom left where the streets are still white. Those streets are not available in street view.

The green pointer shows where the little man is going to drop. When you have it positioned where you want him, release the button. Be patient, as it takes a few seconds to bring up the images in street view.




Now he's standing in front of the library and I see what he sees. He is my eyes. I can turn around in different directions, walk down the street by clicking on arrows, visit a cross street or zoom in to see a distant building.




The photos in Google street view were taken on a particular date -- they're not real-time. This one was taken in March of 2012.

After I've visited each location in street view, I feel a little more ready for the real thing. I use this technique when booking hotels, also.

Play with street view if you haven't already done that. This tool is one of the best creations since sliced bread!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 7

Looking at my courthouse planning form, I realized it was missing a couple of things.

How about the date it was filled out? In a year, if I find it kicking around in my files, I won't know how current it is. In business documents I always have a date, and this deserves the same level of professionalism.

The other gap is the website address for each repository. In a printed form, it's useful, but not critical. But since I will be using this as an electronic form, it will be handy to have a clickable link on my iPad.

It's funny how our technology growth changes our perceptions. Last time I went to a courthouse, I didn't yet have an iPad. Now I don't know how I ever survived without it.

So here's the updated form.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 6

The historical society is another possible repository of county records. A quick check of the website for the Macon County Historical Society shows there is a library which requires an appointment. There is no indication it is a repository. So I'll disregard it.

Having located all the repositories, it's now time to pull together the planning document.

For each repository, put the address, phone number and hours into the planning document. Note copy prices if available and note restrictions on public records versus closed records. Since the documents I am searching are prior to 1900, I expect all records to be public.

The University of Illinois at Springfield is not on the agenda for this trip, but it's in the planning document for future reference.

Here's the completed form. The hours will need to be verified again, right before the trip.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 5

One place to look for county records is the local historical or genealogical society. This is where I hit the jackpot for Macon County, Illinois.

The Decatur Genealogical Society & Library has the original probate packets for the county. It is a depository for Macon County. The society also has indexes and abstracts for many county record sets. Family Bibles are also in their collection.

DGS has limited hours. I've sent an email to verify if and when they will be open when I'm in Macon County. Once I hear back, I'll more carefully review their holdings list.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 4

Now that I have a good idea of records that are at the courthouse in Macon County, Illinois, I need to see what holdings are at the library. Sometimes records are transferred to the library and often there are copies of and indexes for the county records.

The Decatur Public Library does have a local history room, according to the website. It is open limited hours. Based on the information online, I don't see much of value. It has old newspapers, but they are also available to me via my Ancestry subscription.

The collections that could be useful:
  • Obituary index for 1879 - 2012
  • Maps and plats
  • Local history books
  • Cemetery books, but I've seen them

I don't see the WPA Historical Records Survey listed, nor do I find it in the online catalog. I've sent an email to the local history contact email to ask if it's in their collection.

Since the local history room is only open from 10-5 on the day I plan to be there, I'd have to plan a break from courthouse research, perhaps at lunch time. It will depend on how the day is going. It's definitely not a high priority unless they have the WPA booklet.