Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Filtering Mary, Part 1

Search filters on Ancestry and Family Search could inspire a book. They can help you find a record, but can also hide records from you. I'll present thoughts in small bites. Today I just want to write about the Country filter.

Mary Maddox Neff was the wife of a farmer and laborer. It was very unlikely that she ever left the United States, so I can safely restrict my searches to this country and so avoid looking at record collections that just clutter my screen.

Think about the person you are searching. Were they an immigrant? Were they affluent enough to travel? Did their occupation require international travel? What countries might they have traveled to or through?

For example, my Swedish ancestors traveled through England on the way to New York. I need to search records from Sweden, England and the United States. Did they stop off in Barbados on the voyage? I'll want to search each country separately.

Setting the country filter is easy on Ancestry. Either on the main search screen or on the edit search screen, just use the little drop down arrow for Collection Focus. Pick the country or region of interest before clicking on Search.

On the first search page at Family Search, start typing in the country and it will try to match the name. Click on the country name that's right before you click on Search. The X at the top right of the location does not clear it out. You'll have to use your space bar if you want to clear it.

If you are already looking at search results on Family Search, it's a little harder to find this filter. You'll have to roll down to find the word Location on the left side.

Click on the word Location and the country box will appear. Start typing in the country and it will try to match the name. Click on the country name that's right before you click on Update. The X at the top right of the location does not clear it out. You'll have to use your space bar if you want to clear it.

Recapping, use the country filter to remove large numbers of irrelevant collections from your search results.

Friday, July 22, 2016

How Many Marys Can You Put On A Page?

Here's another quick tip about searching on Ancestry, Family Search and other sites. I'm putting on my technical hat for this idea.

Each time you advance a page or back up a page while reviewing search results, the records have to be looked up and the page has to be displayed. There is a delay as you go to each new page. The smaller the page, the more delays to get through the results that you are looking at.

On Ancestry, you can choose to see 10, 20 or 50 results on a page. The choice is made at the bottom of the page. Once you choose a number, that number is saved by Ancestry as your selection until you change it.

On Family Search, the choice is made at the top. You can choose to see 20, 50 or 75 results on each page.

I like more results on a page and fewer pages. You may prefer the opposite. You need to experiment and see what works best for you to speed through your search.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mary's FAN Club

In the last post, I was debating whether I was following the right family in my search for Mary Maddox Neff. However, Mary's FAN club was reinforcing my theory. Did you know that all of our ancestors have FAN clubs that may help us advance our research?

Elizabeth Shown Mills pioneered the acronym FAN club to stand for Friends, Associates and Neighbors. I prefer F to stand for Family.

Mary isn't my ancestor, but is actually in the FAN club of her brother, my ancestor. Researching all of the siblings is part of my research efforts. I've found that the more I learn about a family, the more I can learn about my ancestor. With today's DNA matching, broad family trees are even more important to facilitate connections.

Because I know a lot about the Maddox family, I noticed a very important clue in the 1860 census. The farmhand that was living in Mary's household was related to Mary through the marriage of yet another brother. It could have been coincidence, but it turned out that this clue helped keep me focused on the right family.

Learn about your ancestor's Family, Friends, Associates and Neighbors. Sometimes you can't find your ancestor, but you might find a member of their FAN club to lead you to the poorly written or badly indexed record of your ancestor.

Specific to researchers of the Maddox and Neff families of Pickaway County, Ohio, here's another look at the 1860 census for George M and Mary Maddox Neff.

Notice the farmhand, James A Talmadge. Mary's brother David married Mary Mariah Tammadge, the older sister of James. The spelling of the name varied between Tammadge and Talmadge, depending on the record. Based on the 1850 census, the two were siblings, children of Henry Talmadge.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mary's Husband Served His Country

Continuing with search strategies, let's learn more about Mary. Today's tip is to collect every military record (and every record of any type) you can find on your subject and their immediate family. Each record provides different clues.

I was still looking for what happened to Mary Maddox Neff of Pickaway County, Ohio, after the 1860 census. I'd been looking for Mary for over 10 years, so knew more than names, but not enough. Some of the questions I pondered were:
  • Had I located the right family in the 1860 census? The names George and Mary Neff were not a unique combination.
  • Was she married to the George M Neff who served in Company G, 113th Infantry Regiment, Ohio, during the Civil War?
  • Did her George possibly die during or after the War?
  • If George died, did Mary remarry?
  • Did George or Mary collect a Civil War pension?
My next step was to research George M. Neff, the Civil War soldier.

Military records can be a gold mine of information and should always be collected when available. Pension files are frequently rich in genealogical information. By learning the available records, you'll know what to look for. I wanted to find any Civil War pensions for this couple.

Remember to use Ancestry Categories and Family Search Collections to go straight to military records. Fold 3, which is another Ancestry-owned site, has some military records that are not available elsewhere.

Searching on George M Neff who served from Ohio gives a reasonable number of Civil War records to review, but there were no pension files.

One of the problems with filters is that not every record set is tied to dates and locations. You can miss a record by setting the wrong filter. Experiment with filters to see what is returned with different settings.

In this case, limiting the Military service location to exactly Ohio was the wrong strategy. I had to change that filter to be broad, rather than exact. That basically removed the filter, but would prioritize Ohio records, if the location had been used.

By removing the Ohio limitation, there are 59 pension files of possible interest. These images are only index cards, but they are good clues. Clicking into the pensions, then adding a spouse with the name Mary prioritizes the search results.

The very first result happens to be the Ohio soldier I'm looking for, but the pension was filed from Iowa, an unexpected location. Here are some new clues. Now I know that the soldier George M Neff was indeed married to a woman named Mary. I still have to determine if it is the right Mary. Did my couple move to Iowa?

The card from Ancestry is hard to read. What could I learn at Fold 3? Is the complete pension file available? Remember to use every site you can to collect records. Fold 3 had a different view, but not the complete file.

What do these cards reveal? 

George M Neff applied for a pension from Iowa on May 22, 1890, and he was approved. He died on October 6, 1897. His widow, Mary M Neff applied in October, 1897, for a widow's pension and she was approved. Her death date is not recorded in the index, but would be in her pension file.

The Civil War pension index cards were the breakthrough in my search for Mary.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Correcting Mary's Family

Yesterday my friend Elizabeth shared her tale of search woe in the comments. She found the elusive census record after trying every trick she had. And I found my Mary Maddox Neff after trying a number of tricks, too. Having found those difficult records, we really need to leave breadcrumbs for the next searcher.

Ancestry and some other sites give us the ability to add corrections or additional information for some, but not all, of the information in a record. When we finish our happy dance, we need to take a few minutes to provide that correction. Our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins will appreciate the help when they are searching.

Today I'll show you how to view Ancestry corrections and how to make them yourself. I hope you already do that and can just ignore this post.

Let's return to Absalom Neff, born in Ohio, indexed in the 1870 census. Here are the two results.

Notice the pencil after Absolam Loff who is living in Van Buren County, Iowa. That shows that there is a correction or edit to the record that was indexed by Ancestry. Otherwise I'd be wondering how Loff related to Neff. I have to click into View Record (not the image) to see the correction and who made it.

The record was indexed by an Ancestry transcriber as Absolam Loff. Under that name the brackets show the correction (or additional information) is the name Absolam Neff. Click that name to see information about the correction.

I contributed this correction to the name, stating it was a transcription error. I see the trash can only because this is my correction and I can choose to delete it.

Truth be told, the record is nearly impossible to read. Thank goodness for Absalom!

When adding a correction, we can go beyond errors and add some clarifications. I had already added the surname correction, but I could certainly add clarity on the first names. These initials are not at all helpful. Let's fix up his older sister. Still in the text view for Absalom, I clicked on C J Loff, which is one line up.

From this page, I clicked on View/Add alternate info. It brought up a corrections window just like the one for Absalom, above.

I then clicked on the button "ADD YOUR OWN". Now I can add information for Christina.

In this case, I want to add a variation of her name. I use the drop down arrows to see my choices and variation was the best fit. I have to type in the name as it should be. The explanation is optional, but as this is not a transcription error, adding a brief explanation helps the Ancestry reviewer as well as future researchers.

After clicking on "SUBMIT ALTERNATE", one more window comes up because I changed her surname.

I am asked whether to apply the surname change to everyone in the household. You'll want to choose wisely between APPLY and Close when making such a change. When I first submitted the Neff surname last year as a transcription error, I used APPLY, as that specific transcription error does apply to everyone in the household.

In this case, I did not need to repeat the surname change and the information I added is specific to Christina. I clicked on Close.

I can see the corrections that I just made, but no one else can see them until they have been reviewed and accepted by someone at Ancestry. Here's a final look at how Christina's corrections appear.

Today I added a first name for each person in the household, except Absalom. I added brief additional information from the 1880 census and from George's military records to explain the variations for George M, Ann Elizabeth and Laura.

Mary and her family are now all corrected and augmented in the 1870 census index. I'll share more search strategy the next time.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mary Had a Little ... Child

Today I have another tip to help speed up searching for online genealogy records.

In yesterday's tip, I was searching for Mary Maddox Neff and used Ancestry Categories and Family Search Collections to focus the search.

Today I've narrowed the Ancestry search by filters, which is a topic for another day. Unfortunately even searching for Mary Neff, born in Ohio, there are over 100 results in the 1870 federal census, according to Ancestry.

I could add a birth year, but this family tended to be sloppy on ages. That's actually a common issue, but I would include it in the filtering to start. It wasn't helping with Mary.

What else do I know about Mary to help narrow the search? The 1860 census of Pickaway County, Ohio, shows her family members.

I know her husband is George M. How many results are there in the 1870 census for George Neff, born in Ohio?

A count of 44 is more workable. But what about the children? Ann is a very common name, but there are two other children.

The tip of the day is to search with the less common names in the family. Just because Mary Maddox Neff is the person I am searching for, I should not limit myself to searching for her name. This strategy works on Family Search as well as Ancestry and on many other sites.

Mary's children's names are the ones to search. Absalom is the obvious choice with two matches. Remember that names were fluid before birth certificates. If I were named Absalom, I would definitely drop that name at some point. He might have already started using another name by the age of 14.

Christina is also a good name to try. Since Christina was 6 in 1860, she would be about 16 in 1870, which is of marriageable age. She might be gone from the household, but it is worth looking at each of the four matches. 

I didn't find the family with this tip, though today you would do so. One of the two matches on Absalom is correct, but only because I submitted a correction after digging up the record.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

All About Mary

Every once in a while someone asks me how I found some information. That question came to me again recently and I wrote a rather lengthy reply to a newbie. My methods are not special, but they are deliberate. Today I share my single biggest secret.

A columnist -- online or paper -- once wrote that Ancestry is a scam. I wouldn't go that far, but it is important to know what they want from you: your data first and your money second. If you depend on their online service to store your family tree, they have achieved the first and are also doing well at keeping their hand in your pocket.

Web sites, not just Ancestry, want you to spend long periods of time on their sites. The longer you stay, the more ads you will see and the more money you will spend. So how do you spend less time at Ancestry and find more of what you are looking for? The strategy I'll show you also works for Family Search.

Where's Mary?

Last year I was searching for a woman named Mary Maddox Neff. I had last found her with her husband and children in the 1860 census in Pickaway County, Ohio. What happened to Mary Neff after 1860? Let's search both Ancestry and Family Search for this fairly common name.

Focus on Ancestry Categories

First let's do a wide-open search on Ancestry.

If you have not changed your default results method, this would be the view you get. 986 thousand results to dig through. I'd be on the Ancestry site the rest of my life looking for that 1870 census. Ka-ching!

Narrow the collection to United States only, since that is where Mary should be.

Now it's only 864 thousand results. I could continue to refine the filters, but there is a very fast way to focus. Choose Categories instead of Records at the top right. That's the trick. It's that simple.

Notice that the matching result count went up to over one million. That's strange, but now I don't care because I am not going to look at those matches. Having selected Categories, now my results will always return as Categories and I don't have to switch it unless I'm feeling masochistic.

Next I have to think about what I need to find. In this case I want the 1870 census. So I would click into the line that says "See all 114,048 results" that is under Census & Voter Lists. The 1870 census will be in that list and I will select that census and start working with filters to find what I want.

The downside to this method is that you have to think about the records you need to search. The upside is you will get to know the record types and be able to get to what you want much more quickly. So in the long run there is no real downside. And Ancestry may not keep you spending money quite so long.

Focus on Family Search Collections


Family Search works in a similar way. First the wide-open search returns 61 thousand results. Even on a free site, that's far too many records to look at.

On Family Search, click on the word Collections at the top of the results to break the results down by

Again, looking for the 1870 census, I need to click on "Show All 101" after the heading that says Census & Lists.

I didn't find Mary Neff in the 1870 census by these methods alone, but that's a tale for another day.