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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 3

I'm headed to Macon County, Illinois, for a genealogy field trip and the next step is to list the records to research.

List the known events in Macon County:

  • 1862 marriage
  • 1864 naturalization
  • 1866 marriage
  • 1868 birth
  • 1870 birth
  • 1870 census
  • 1874-1880 possible deaths, triggering guardianship and probate
  • later events for half-siblings

List the record sets that apply, based on the IRAD listing:

  • Record Set                                     From   To
  • ASSESSOR'S BOOKS                               1848   1891
  • BIRTH RECORD INDEX                             1850   1890
  • CHATTEL MORTGAGES                              1871   1948
  • CIRCUIT COURT CASE FILES                       1829   1904
  • CIRCUIT COURT DOCKETS                          1878   1881
  • CIRCUIT COURT DOCKETS, COMMON LAW              1869   1869
  • COUNTY COURT RECORD                            1872   1934
  • DEATH RECORD                                   1877   1918
  • DEATH RECORD INDEX                             1877   1922
  • DEED INDEX                                     1829   1893
  • DEED RECORD                                    1829   1901
  • ENTRY BOOKS                                    1827   1890
  • JUSTICE OF THE PEACE DOCKETS                   1857   1871
  • MARRIAGE RECORD                                1829   1918
  • MARRIAGE RECORD INDEX                          1829   1930
  • MILITARY DISCHARGE RECORD                      1864   1865
  • MILITIA ROLL RECORD                            1861   1862
  • MORTGAGE RECORD                                1857   1893
  • NATURALIZATION RECORD, COUNTY COURT            1860   1906
  • PROBATE ADMINISTRATOR'S RECORD                 1873   1939
  • PROBATE CASE FILES                             1830   1890
  • PROBATE INVENTORY RECORD                       1860   1960
  • PROBATE WILL RECORD                            1847   1916

That's a lot of record sets, but many I've seen before on microfiche or microfilm. I need to double-check the indexes for alternate spellings that I've learned are common. I didn't know those spellings when I first looked.

Tomorrow I'll look at record sets available at the public libraries in Macon County.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 2

Now that the county is selected, what records are available? Illinois research being one of my specialties, I already know some of the records will have been sent to archives at one of the universities or to the state archives in Springfield.

I have a wonderful book called "The Handybook for Genealogists", which is no longer in print. If you can get hold of one at a used book sale, grab it. Let's see what it can tell me about Macon County, Illinois.

Because the book is old (mine is from 1999), I know some of these records may not be at the courthouse and the courthouse address and phone may be incorrect.

But I do know now the earliest date that different types of vital records were created in the county. I know the courthouse had not burned as of 1999. The asterisk in front of the county name tells me that the records were surveyed by the WPA between 1936 and 1943. So somewhere there is a published list of the records that were available at that time. 

Jumping to the Illinois archives website, I find a web page specifically about Macon County records. I learn the current address and phone numbers for the county clerks. I see that the IRAD (archives) depository for Macon County is the University of Illinois at Springfield. I also find a township map which I just copied into my Illinois resource folder on my computer. Sweet!  

Following a link, I can check the Local Governmental Records Holdings. I search for Macon County records at University of Illinois at Springfield and get a great list of record sets.

At FamilySearch, I find another web page about Macon County and its records. It's jam-packed with information and some unfortunate broken links. I'll get back to that another day.

I have now learned that most of the records at the archives are copies. I think the records that I need are still in the county. I do see some record sets listed that I may need to access through the archives.

Tomorrow it will be time to to list record sets of interest.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 1

The first visit to a courthouse is always a bit stressful for me. It's hard to know what to expect. I will expect a security scanner and my little pocket knife will need to stay in the car. Will the people be friendly or stress out? Will the records be open or hard to get to? Have some of the records gone to other facilities?

First, I need to be sure I'm headed to the right county, so I define the time frame and current county. I want to research 1855 to 1880 in Decatur, Macon County, Illinois.

In what county was Decatur during those years? There are many ways to check, but a fast check on Wikipedia tells me that Macon County was formed in 1829 from Shelby County, and the Macon County boundaries were finalized in 1843.

So only the Macon County records need to be searched for those years.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Back to Basics

A friend told me that she isn't sure she knows the basics of family history research, so she's now looking forward to her first national conference in the hope of expanding her knowledge.

I forget sometimes that so much of my research knowledge comes from a combination of great mentors, local seminars, national genealogy conferences and training institutes. The volunteers at the local Family History Centers in the greater Phoenix area were wonderful at getting me started and advising me. Consider dropping into your local FHC to see what resources they have and if they can help you advance your research.

I also want to be a mentor to others. So what would you like me to blog about? Where do I lose you? It's hard to follow other peoples families through convoluted research and records. I try to make it simple. Maybe you have an American-focused problem you can't work through. Consider sending it to me and I can try to work it and share the process on this blog. I can't promise a solution.

Maybe you have a question about scanning or digital-scrapbooking. I can try to answer or to suggest resources.

Here are some things percolating in my head.
  • What's a Greta Green and why do you care?
  • The six W's of each fact: who, when, where, what, why and how.
  • Managing sources.
  • Creating a problem statement and work plan.
  • Day-by-day planning of a visit to a courthouse (I'm heading out soon and planning now).
  • Land records: using the grantor and grantee indexes.
  • Moving your genealogy database between programs using GEDCOM.

Since I know a courthouse visit is anxiety-provoking, I'm going to go ahead with the courthouse planning as a series of (hopefully) short posts over the next few days.

If you don't know what you don't know, I encourage you to look at the schedule for the upcoming FGS conference. The topics and speakers vary from conference to conference, based on the host city. See if those topics spark questions in your mind. Skip the Wednesday sessions, as they are focused on local genealogical society management. Hopping into Thursday, I am intrigued right away.

The first seminar listed after the keynote is: They Went Down With the Ship -- Do Their Records Survive? Clicking the plus, I can see that the speaker is talking about Great Lakes shipwrecks. What a unique topic! In the same hour are speakers on DNA, migration by river, Michigan research and several others. I'll be at the conference and already I can't decide which topic to pick in that hour!

Back to my point -- after having taken a little mental side trip. Reading the names of the seminars or the overview of the talk is such a reminder of the vast field of historical research. I know there is always something new to learn.

So drop me an email or leave a comment. What would you like to know that I might be able to share with you?

Friday, July 19, 2013

I is for Incomplete, C is for ...

Someone asked how my family tree database could possibly have men with no surname. We expect to have missing surnames for women, but never for men.

I discussed the problems of patronymics in the last post. But there were four other men in my database without a surname. In each case, the first name came from someone else.

Have you ever chatted with a family member who said that a cousin had married, but they couldn't recall the full name of the spouse? Maybe you received a partial name when someone shared a tree with you. Perhaps you received a Christmas letter that mentioned someone by first name only. These are the ways the gaps popped into my tree. You may be able to think of other ways that names are missed.

B for GenSmarts

When I asked GenSmarts for clues for the four mystery men, no clues were available. I'll accept that's realistic. So I asked for the clues on the wife or mother of the mystery men. In two cases, the clues were absolutely correct and the surnames were easily found and added to the tree.

In two cases, I knew something that GenSmarts didn't know. The clues were good, but I knew the women had moved away from their birth states. I don't fault GenSmarts for that, since I hadn't entered any clues into the database. I rate GenSmarts less than A mostly due to a census analysis flaw described later.

W for Withdrawn: she/he who dies with the most names does not win the genealogy jackpot.

I followed all clues from GenSmarts and my own knowledge and was entirely unable to find a name or even determine that one mystery man was actually a husband. From the letter, he could have been a son or cousin.

It's more important to have a correct tree than to collect names. I decided the right move was to remove the name for this distant relative. I removed the man and added a note for the woman who was the focus of the letter.

C is for Census

The fourth name served as an important reminder. All the missing names were from old information that I'd had since 2001 or before. The 1930 census was released in 2002 and the 1940 census was released in 2012. I use them in new research, but had never considered that I had gaps that could be filled with these new records. Again, the right records led me to the right information and I closed the fifth and last male surname gap via census research.

If you have been researching for a few years, you also may have old data that could be improved by finding a new census record.

Tell me RootsMagic, What's Missing?

I'm going to keep emphasizing that reporting on your database is an important tool. I'm going to continue to focus on RootsMagic as the most cost effective program, if you don't have a tool already. So let's see how I can find where newer census records can fill my gaps.

Again, I don't want to look at too much at once -- it's overwhelming. So let's see who was born in 1921 that I should be able to find in the 1930 and 1940 census.

In RootsMagic, I choose from the top menu Reports, then choose Lists ...

I want a missing information list.

After I click on Create Report, I need to select the missing information that I want to look for. Let's start with people who have a birth date without a birthplace. The 1930 and 1940 census should help me find the birthplace and give me a look at the person's entire family in those years.

I need to use a selection list to find the target people. As soon as I click on select from list, the select people list pops up.

To mark the people, I choose Mark Group and Select people by data fields.

Finally, I choose to search for people where the birth date contains 1921.

There are only 14 people in the entire database with that birth year. That's a nice little size.

I keep clicking OK until I get back to to the Generate Report button. Clicking that, the report appears and only five of the 14 are missing a birthplace.

One very sweet thing that I didn't mention before is that RootsMagic will pull suggestions from GenSmarts, if you have both programs. However, the RootsMagic display from GenSmarts is not as complete and flexible as using GenSmarts alone.

Let's see what GenSmarts recommends for Robert Z Heepke. It is more useful to look at the entire family than just one person, but here's the one-person view from inside RootsMagic.

Because Robert was a child during the 1930 census, it is not suggested by GenSmarts. I believe that's a flaw in the analysis. The indexing is very extensive now that the census records are online. It's as easy to find a child as it is a head of household. There's another, more conservative way to look at this analysis choice and maybe I'll write about it later.

So what does GenSmarts suggest for Robert's father, William R Heepke?

Now the 1930 and 1940 census records are suggested, specifically the Ohio census.

Exiting from RootsMagic and opening up GenSmarts, I can ask for suggestions for the family of William R Heepke.

Now a wide variety of suggestions are made for the entire family, along with a legend showing what's online, what's free, and what will fill in gaps.

While I go fill in some of my missing data, I challenge you to think about your own database. How can the 1940 census help you fill in your own gaps?