Some of the earliest, largest, and most complete types of genealogical records used in research are land documents. Along with showing legal proof of ownership, land records provide a plethora of information such as:
a person’s age
name of their spouse
their parent’s, relatives, and neighbors
location of where they previously lived
if they were a naturalized citizen
if the land was acquired from the government
If land was acquired from the government, it is called a grant. This can be found on all levels of the government: federal, state, and county.
If land has been acquired from another person, it is a deed.
There are 2-different types of indexes to look up land records of your ancestors, direct and indirect.
A direct index has you searching by the grantor, or the seller of the land.
An indirect index has you searching by the grantee, or the buyer of the land.
Both indexes include the warranty, deed, quit claim, trust, description of the property, date of the sale, recordings and page number of the sale. An important tip is that surnames are often lumped together and are not found alphabetically. For example you may find a grouping of Smith’s on the S page in the beginning of the index with the name Saunders listed well after.
Below is a Direct Index from Potter County, Pennsylvania. Though you do not see any other “W” last names, you can see how the entire sheet is filled with Warner’s. Many of these are my relatives, with Winfield and Orienta Warner being my 3rd-Great-Grandparents.
Where to Find
Land records can be found using the FamilySearch Wiki, Google, Ancestry, USGenWeb, and sometimes records can be found online through the county governments (I know this is the case for several counties in Pennsylvania). Just remember it is important to search for the documents where the land was at the time of the sale. If your tract of land was originally done in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1835, but today it is found in Blair County, Pennsylvania, you will need to look in Bedford County for the documents.
What to Find
You never know what other bit of information you may find within your land document:
Value of the land
Sale or Manumission of Slaves
Power of Attorney
Deed of gifts
Below is a lawful agreement of a land sale from David Ritchey to my 3rd-Great-Grandparents, George Ritchey and his wife, Anna (Annie) Cypher. I like how the paperwork includes a drawing of the land in question and the neighbors and relatives surrounding the area.
When you are looking at older records, reading the handwriting can be a challenge. Sometimes you may need to get a feel of the older handwriting and possibly do some analysis to figure out all that is being said. Sometimes you will get lucky and some of your documents may be from the same time period and you may get the same person doing more than one.
This was just a brief glimpse at what all goes into land documents. The types of measurements and such are all different wherever you go, from state to state and country to country. (States tend to be grouped with states that earned their statehood at the same time, for example, the 13 original colonies have similar measurement methods).
To discover if your ancestor received bounties from the government for military service you can go to the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records Automation Website (https://glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx). Not only does it give you information on what the website provides but you can search for your ancestor’s land documents as well.
This week I am going to share another installment of my Warner family by exploring my great-great-great-grandfather, Winfield Warner.
Winfield S. Warner was born on 14 April 1847 in Potter County, Pennsylvania. His parents were Oliver Charles Warner and Mary Ann Jones and he was the youngest of their five children, the others being Emeline, Angelia, James, and Roscoe. His dad was a successful lumberman and farmer, as lumber was a very lucrative trade in Potter County at this time.
At the age of 17, Winfield joined the Union Army. He was a private in Company K 13th Regiment of New York with the heavy artillery, which was used in attacks on fortified positions. According to the Adjunct General’s Office Register, Winfield enlisted on 17 October 1864 in Mount Morris, New York to serve one year. He mustered out with the company on 28 June 1865 due to the end of the war in Norfolk, Virginia.
Once the Civil War ended, Winfield returned home to Pennsylvania and married Orienta Gustin around 1869. They settled in Sharon Township in Potter County where he was a farmer. They had their first daughter, Mazie Lorena on 21 Jul 1877, their next daughter, Cymanthia Lencretia was born 18 March 1881, Jeanette was born in July of 1887, while their youngest, Catherine Belle, was born 25 August 1890.
Because he was a Civil War soldier, Winfield was listed in the still remaining 1890 Census for the Veterans Schedule. When it asked if he had any disabilities from the war, all that is listed is Sunstroke.
Sunstroke (or heat stroke) is the most serious form of heat injury that can cause damage to the brain or other internal organs caused by prolonged exposure to the sun while being dehydrated with a core body temperature of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Other symptoms include headaches, seizures, nausea, confusion, loss of consciousness, dizziness, a lack of sweating, and disorientation. It can take from 2 months to a year to overcome heat stroke (WebMD). However, it has been noted that most heat-related issues during the Civil War were noted as sunstroke regardless of how severe the ailment was (Ithaca College)
Winfield Scott Warner passed away on 21 March 1899. His obituary described him as an “old soldier” but what is sad as that he was only 51 when he died. I guess this leaves a lingering sting as I’m 4 years away from that age myself. I guess this is one of the ways the world has changed in 121 years.
Of his family Winfield is the only member I don’t have a photo of at this time. I have a couple of photos of his wife, Orienta, and 3 of his 4 daughters (Mazie, Cymanthia, and Jeanette), and photos of his parents. On his Civil War papers he is listed as having brown hair, black eyes and a light complexion. He stood 6 foot, 1 inch tall. Hope that one day when the National Archives opens up again and I can retrieve his military and pension records that maybe within it there will be a photograph as well. Fingers crossed.
I don’t have a lot to say today but this is one of my all time favorite meme’s and it’s appropriate only today! When one of my friend’s posted this on Facebook last year I laughed all day – and I did again today when it showed up in my memories. No disrespect to the Queen, not only is this funny I find her fashionable in this gorgeous pink suit.
I hope everyone who celebrates had a safe and Happy Fourth of July!
Lately I have seen many posts in my genealogy group asking how to start in genealogy. I’ll admit I was puzzled the first time I saw the comment. Surely they were farther ahead than they realized as they found the genealogy groups in Facebook, I’d been doing my family tree for a couple of years before I began using Facebook and Twitter for my search.
But then I began really thinking about it. How did I start? I know I’ve commented before and it was just a day in August and I googled “Family Tree” or something like that and FamilySearch.org came up, I registered and began.
I knew nothing of the one big tree. I did know that Ancestry looked interesting but my husband and I weren’t in a place for us economically for me to join. So I utilized the plethora of free sites out there (and believe it or not there is a lot you can do for free).
It also made me think of the presentation I did for my son’s Boy Scout troop a month or so ago. It was all about the basics and though I’ve probably discussed various things individually on this blog of mine so far – here is a list of how I would suggest someone begin their family history journey.
Start With You!
Everyone thinks that starting your family tree is so hard but it’s really easy, it begins with you! Write down your own vital statistics – when you were born, where you were born, the time (if you know it). Then you go on and write the same information about your father, your mother and then move onto your grandparents.
It’s best to have at least 7-people to begin to find your ancestors, you will have a slightly easier time if you have the information for 15.
If you don’t know some of the answers, ask someone who may know. By the time I began getting serious about my family tree, all of my grandparents had passed away. Luckily I had an assignment in sixth grade to work on my family tree. I really didn’t have to do much at that time, the goal was for us to get to another state or country. On my dad’s side my entire family goes back to Pennsylvania by his parents (and technically he was born in Indiana so there is always that), and on my mom’s side her paternal grandparents came over from England in 1913 (James Fairhurst) and 1915 (Phoebe Boone). I’d found out my information by asking my grandparents questions. My Grandma Blair (aka Anna Maria Morgart) gave me the information I needed about my paternal side (everyone else had already passed away), my mom gave me the information as she knew a lot about her maternal mother’s side of the family. My Grandfather Fairhurst was living with our family at the time and told me about how his parents came over (he is the one who told me that his mother was supposedly going to come over on the Titanic but wasn’t feeling well, only for me to realize later that the Titanic sank 2-years before she was going to set sail).
Family Group Charts
Once you have the basic information about your family members it’s best to fill out a family group chart. These can be found online for free. It is just a worksheet that you use to give all the details you have about your family. If there is a record you are missing, you will clearly see what it is and be able to research the information you need. Below is a sample page 1 of the Family Group Chart that comes with the Legacy Family Tree software.
Use Online Genealogy Databases
If your family is like mine, you aren’t going to get very far learning about your family history from asking questions. My dad has surprised me by being able to name as many people in photographs than I ever thought he would know, but there is a great deal about the members of his family that he is just as surprised about as me.
Once you get to your great-grandparents there is a very strong possibility that this is where you need to start finding information online about your family (which is why I suggest the 15 family members). FamilySearch.org is a free site but the one big fact you have to recognize is that the person must be dead in order to find any information about them. Occasionally you may find a marriage license because it could reference the parents who have passed away, but that is it.
I always recommend using FamilySearch.org in the beginning as some of the other sites can be expensive and if you are unsure of how dedicated you are going to be to a hobby, go the free route in the beginning. Yes there are a bunch of records that even the FamilySearch.org wiki is going to direct you to on Ancestry – but if you can, go to the library and use the Ancestry Library Edition for free (until you know for sure – you can normally get a good deal on a membership your first time).
Below is the “Search” page for FamilySearch.org that you can plop your person’s name in along with when they were born, died or even married. I normally begin being as vague as I can, I will put in their first and last name (with women I start with their maiden name, but if it is death information I may put in her married name), but I put in years only (I love how you can control the span of years on FamilySearch) and for place I will often put a state only, I believe you can put in the city and state, but if I’m off on the precise city it’s easier to be a bit vague (putting in United States may be a bit too vague).
Once you start using the genealogy databases (FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com are the 4-big ones) you can start filling out the vital statistics you have already collected by adding census records, possibly marriage licenses, and even city directory pages. Census records and city directories both offer you addresses of where your people lived at a specific time.
Once you find the basic information you can go about finding the hard core records, such as wills, land documents, court records, possibly even church records. With this comes learning how to read handwriting which is another blog post in itself.
Why I Started Seriously Researching My Family
There are 2 main reasons why the third time was the charm for me with doing my genealogy. The first is that I was having a bad day almost 4 years ago and I was really missing my Grandma and I figured learning more about her and her family would allow me to feel closer to her. It worked, I only wish she knew all that I have found out. I also wish I had thought to ask more questions. I remember vaguely so many stories she shared but there are so many more questions I wish I’d asked – like how did my grandparents meet?
The second reason is that the internet provides you access to records to entice you for the search. You can’t do it all from the privacy of your own home, or even the local library, but you can do a great deal more than the patience those who have been working on their genealogy for decades did. The respect I have for those who have done this for so long, I salute them all.
Just remember, it may take a while to find specific information. Not everything can be found at the tip of your fingers. Document what you find as you find it! I know I may not have always wrote down where I found it (I did happen to find it again for citations in my Legacy Family Tree software) but I did download the copies of the census records and such and have them stored in an online filing system. I have a paper system made up but I find I really don’t use it much, but I should as I have copies of wills and land documents I obtained last July in Pennsylvania.
Eventually you may even come across brick walls (for example Andrew Blair and Suzanna Akers (???) for me, well, let’s not forget their son, George, too.
Genealogy is like a huge puzzle and it’s so exciting when you put all those pieces together. If you get stuck at a spot, just pick another person and work on finding out about them. In time you will find the all (or most) of the information you seek. Just learn patience.
Thirteen years ago on this very day I lost one of the greatest human beings I ever knew. My paternal grandmother, Anna Maria Morgart died at the age of 93 years and a part of me has been lost ever since. On this anniversary of her death I will honor her.
Anna Maria Morgart was born on 2 April 1914 in Broad Top Township, Pennsylvania at 11:55am to Charles Jackson Morgart and Margaret Dora Wise. She was named after her maternal grandmother, Anna Maria Leighty Wise. By the time she was 5 years old, her father would commit suicide and her mother would re-marry. From the many stories I heard, my grandma thought the world of Irie Earl Custer, so much so my dad’s middle name was his middle name, and the name he (Mr. Custer) used, Earl.
She always told me about how much she loved school, and though she didn’t get the best of grades, she did love English and handwriting. She loved to write. Her handwriting was so distinctive, you can see it below in the “Blondie” on the photo on the right.
Anna Maria Morgart, about 1925 or 1926 or earlier
Below red school house. Looking at Geo Wise
One of her first jobs, she told me, was how she cleaned a bank. She claimed she got down and cleaned the floor with a little brush. She may or may not have said tooth brush but as a little girl that’s always what I pictured so that might be where I got that idea in my head. When I visited Pennsylvania last Summer my cousin, Hope, was so nice to show me where the bank was – and here it is – it’s where you pay your utilities in Saint Michael now.
The photo below was taken of her in 1933 – she was just 19 years old. It’s odd how much my dad looks like her in these photos.
I never quite knew when my grandparents met, I’m still not certain how they met either. I think I asked my dad but he isn’t entirely sure either. However I did come across this article from the Everett Press from 7 July 1933 where it shows they attended a Fourth of July picnic together at my Grandmother’s aunt’s home (Mrs. Bartley Noggle was Anna Rebekah Morgart, sister of Charles Jackson Morgart).
My grandparents got married on 24 April 1937 in Elkhart, Indiana. I’ve not found any wedding photos or even a marriage announcement, but I have found a copy of their marriage license on FamilySearch.
My grandparents moved to Indiana because my grandfather, Leroy Blair, was offered an apprenticeship in sheet metal. This was a much-preferred occupation as his father had passed away in the coal mines when he (Leroy) was just 14 years old, and according to my dad, Leroy also had an accident in the same “room” where his dad had died.
My Grandfather’s older sister Vada also lived in Gary, Indiana and she and my Grandma were best friends. I often talked to Darlene, Vada’s daughter, and she always remembered how close they were.
Despite living in Indiana, my Grandma still found a way to go back to Pennsylvania and visit her family. She was very close to her family. Her mom, Margaret Wise and brother, Charles Edward “Eddie” Morgart lived in Pennsylvania, but she would also head up to Detroit Michigan to visit with her older sister, Virginia. (Below are photos from 1940 of my Grandma, her with her brother-in-law, Joe Dipko, and lastly one of her and her sister, Virginia).
My Daddy Makes 3
On 11 January 1943 my dad was born. My Grandma was so happy to have a little one, and my dad was her only child. They were still living in Gary, Indiana when he came along, and since World War 2 was taking place, amongst the photographs was the ration book that was used for my dad.
In the 1950’s my grandparents moved from Gary, Indiana to Akron, Ohio. Initially they lived in a trailer but by 1955 they had money to move into a house. My Grandma had never been so proud of a house as the one she made her home. I couldn’t tell you how many photos she had of her house on Roslyn Avenue. That’s her standing in the door below. (She lived here the rest of her life).
My favorite was the photo she had of how there was nothing in the yard so my Grandfather, aka Pappy, decided to grow ears of corn in front of the living room window (however I am not finding that photo at the moment).
Another story of how they found their house was that as long as my Grandma could walk to a store she was going to be happy (she didn’t drive, apparently when she was younger a suitor attempted to teach her but she ran off the road and never got in the driver seat again). Pappy did well, he found a home for her and my parents got her a shopping cart that she could push her groceries home. She was also a master of coupons, and this was before couponing was a thing (or at least before I knew couponing was a thing).
As She Grew Older
My Grandma always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. She loved birds and family. The below photo I shared before. My Grandma and Pappy (right side) are playing with their bird, Skippy #1, while my Grandma’s mom, Margaret “Maggie” Wise, is laughing along with them, and Bertha Childers, Leroy’s mom, is just as grumpy as can be.
My Grandma was one of the most generous people I knew. During the summer months she would get up super early in the morning and go to a lady’s home, Mrs. Juhas was her name, she was the mom of one of my dad’s best friends growing up, and she would help her in her garden. She shared green beans and tomatoes with my grandma as payment (though we use to go over weekly for my dad to help my Grandma with a very small garden she had in her backyard). Until my Grandma got macular degeneration and could no longer can green beans, which was around 1997, I’d never had green beans in an aluminum can until about the year 2000.
Leroy/Pappy died on 14 May 1975 so I don’t really have any recollection of him (I was born in 1973). But Grandma went everywhere with us. She spent the night before Christmas so she was there to watch us open our presents. She was always invited over to functions on my mom’s side of the family (she was 1 of 5 kids so there was always something going on). My husband for the longest time didn’t believe this, especially when I began having trouble going places after my Grandma passed. I realized Grandma was who I sat with at these functions so I could entertain her, and frankly so she could entertain me (I’m quite the introvert at times). But after my maternal grandma passed, my aunt gave us a bunch of photos that we were in that she had, in every photo was my Grandma Blair beside me. I laughed so hard to prove my husband wrong.
When She Turned 93
The last six weeks of my Grandma’s life were not the best. She had gotten a case of shingles on her legs and didn’t tell anyone. It got into her bloodstream and made her pretty sick and she ended up in the hospital. This is where she was on her 93rd birthday. I remember my dad and I going to visit her on her big day, 2 April 2007.
From there she was moved into a nursing home not far from my house to go through therapy so she could walk and move around again. I would go and visit her often and slowly her appetite was decreasing. My husband made her sweet potatoes and it was the last solid food she ate. About a week later, I did what I didn’t want to do, which was tell her it was okay if she wanted to go “home”.
I’ve hated myself for 13 years for doing that. I know it’s what she needed, I know it was probably the right thing to do, but a selfish part of me hates myself for doing it because my kids never got to know her. My son was 7 months old and my daughter just 3 years. She has vague recollections, but that’s it.
But the thing is my kids have gotten to know her. I’ve shared with them all the wonderful stories I have of my Grandma Blair. Just today I told my daughter of the time when my Grandma was watching my sister and I in 1976 after my cousin Tracy was born. My mom helped drive my Aunt Barb to Texas to be with my Uncle who was in the Air Force. Aunt Barb had been in my room so I was staying in Kellie’s room on bunk beds. My sister had finally let me up on the top bunk and very quickly she decided I had overstayed my welcome. She went to take me off the top bunk by force but I quickly pushed her off the top bunk and on to the floor. My Grandma came back to see what was wrong, there was me on the top bunk and there was Kellie on the floor. My Grandma reached up for me and told me it was time to leave Kellie alone. As Kellie cried Grandma just told her that she would be okay and to get up off the floor. I really dodged a bullet that day. Don’t worry, some day I’m sure you’ll hear part 1 of this story when Kellie dragged me around the walls of the living room by my feet giving me rug burn (there is no love loss between my sister and I, even to this day).
A little over 2 years ago as I sat at a band concert with my mom, I can’t even remember what we were talking about but my mom looked at me and said that every day I reminded her of more and more of my Grandma Blair. It was the greatest compliment she could have ever given me. And sadly she (my mom) passed away a few weeks later, so I’m glad she said it when she did.
One of the many types of records that can be beneficial for your genealogical search is court records. “Court records include information about adoption, debt, divorce, naturalization, lawsuits, guardianships and appointments. Probate records relate to the death of an ancestor and the distribution of their estate. These records often include wills, inventories, accounts, bonds, etc.” (from the PBS “Genealogy Roadshow” web page).
Why Court Records are Important
Court records are important on your family history journey because they inform you of family relationships, locations, land ownership, occupations, and descriptions of individuals. For those of African American heritage, court records are critical as they include slaves and slave relationships. Courthouses also can have the registration of free blacks as well as marriages and slave children (from “Genealogy Roadshow“).
Tips for a Successful Search
When going in search of court records it is best to have a plan. Below are some steps that will hopefully lead you to a successful trip to the county courthouse.
1. Have an Objective
Don’t go into a courthouse expecting to fly by the seat of your pants. You must have a clearly stated goal of what it is you are seeking when you visit so you are not wasting your time, or those who work at the Courthouse.
Information that you can find on your ancestors include:
Your ancestor could have been a juror, witness, victim, defendant or plaintiff in a civil or criminal court case
Divorce filings, separation or paternity claims
Tax records for personal property
All of the above were records that were at one time found at courthouses. Today there may be other places where you can find this information. Vital records, for example, might be found at county health departments, or older records may have been consolidated at the state capital (this is the situation for Ohio, birth certificates have no restrictions and can be accessed at our health department, however death certificates from 1908-1953 can be found on FamilySearch, 1954-1963 can be found at the Ohio History Connection, the state historical society, and you can purchase for $7.75 which includes tax; 1964-present are available at the health department of the county where the person died; birth certificates can be retrieved from anywhere in the state from 1908 to the present).
2. Do Research Before Leaving Your Home
When you are getting ready to do a courthouse visit, make sure you research where the records are before you go so you haven’t gone to the wrong place for the records you need. Most county courthouses have websites (or at least the counties do) and it will often tell you exactly where the records you need are located.
If the website is vague, call or even email the person you think lines up with what you are looking for and ask. I know last year when I went to Bedford County I had emailed someone in advance just to make sure I didn’t need an appointment before just showing up. I didn’t but they also told me (as I commented about how I was travelling from Ohio) that they had online access that I could also use for a fee. I was able to get a bunch of needed records about my ancestors that I could find there (and the ladies that work there were extremely friendly and helpful), but as I find other information for non-direct line ancestors, I keep a list so I can look those people up online.
But not everything may be in the courthouse, by calling in advance of when you’re going to be there, they may have records in a storage facility and by calling they could make sure what you are looking for is on-site for your visit.
Also, make sure you have done your due diligence with boundaries and where the information was located at the time you are looking for. Counties are formed all the time (well, not so much now but 150 years ago counties were still being formed within states). Make sure that information you are looking for is where you think it should be. I know in Pennsylvania Blair County was one of the latter counties to be formed in the south western portion of the state, so land and tax records of your ancestor in 1860 that is Blair County could be in Bedford County 20 years prior because Blair county was formed in 1846.
Lastly, make sure that some of your information is not already online with one of the subscription sites. As I mentioned before, Ohio death certificates can be found on FamilySearch from 1908-1953. Sometimes you have to go person by person because the transcribed name may not match up, but they are there (warning: they go in clumps via county and time of death in a year – so you may have a bunch of May deaths together and they are all arranged alphabetically by county, I would often just jump ahead every 25-50 names to get through counties I knew I did not need). Pennsylvania birth certificates from 1906-1910 and Pennsylvania Death Certificates from 1906-1967 can be found on Ancestry. Birth certificates from 1911-1914 can be purchased from the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission for $5 per certificate (I recently purchased my grandparents birth certificates in January of this year, my grandfather was born in 1912 and my grandmother in 1914).
3. Evaluating Your Finds
Remember, you are going to a courthouse to find court records and they will be riddled with legalese you may not understand. It may take a few readings to figure out the true meaning of the document, as well as figuring out the lingo of a hundred years ago. You may also have difficulty with penmanship, big words and bad writing can make for a big headache.
You will also want to make sure you record your findings, along with what you did not find. Sometimes this will be a clue as to where you can look next, or inserting it into a timeline may give you insight on why an event occurred (person moved, went to prison, etc.).
In so many ways genealogy can be a casual hobby but when you plan on heading to the courthouse you should make sure that you dress nicely (casual chic would work great here, if not in a more professional manner) and that you show respect to those working. Some of the people you will be dealing with are elected officials, but more importantly these people are helping you, so make sure you go out of your way to be grateful for what they are doing for you.
This might seem like an odd point but you are going to be messing with books and records that could be hundreds of years old. Even if they are copies, it can still be exciting to be working with these old records. Some may even have your person’s signature on them, and that could just be about as thrilling as it could be – especially if you are like me and find yourself having favorite relatives (I do).
Digging up information of any kind about your people is extremely satisfying. Enjoy the moment but make sure you stick to the plan you have laid out for yourself.
Like most people, I have a lot of ancestors that I can research over the 4-primary branches of my family tree. But are others of you out there like me, obsessed with your brick wall ancestors?
Whenever I read a book on genealogy, any time a new idea is brought to me as far as considering how to find people, the first thing I think of is can I use this new method to find more about Andrew?
Andrew is referencing Andrew Blair, born about 1812 in Pennsylvania and for whom I have no parents. He just shows up in my 1850 census with his wife and 2-children and I can’t find him before or after. His wife, Suzanna, also a brick wall, is born around 1826. And no other Ancestry trees have anything more than I do. Even my late cousin, Darlene, couldn’t find any parental information for Andrew or Suzanna.
Ways to Get Over the Brick Wall
There are many suggestions out there for overcoming a brick wall. Ancestry has 7-points to do to find the answers you seek.
State a clear research problem (specifying your problem succinctly)
Back-up a generation and review (do you know all there is to know about their children?
Use ALL the records (have you searched through all possible documents to find them?)
Create a timeline (this one is pretty self explanatory)
Account for inconsistencies (if records give you differing information, rationalize them)
Research the FAN club (friends, associates, neighbors)
Ask for help (hire a professional genealogist in the area where your ancestors lived)
FamilySearch is a bit more thorough with their suggestions for dealing with brick walls. They have 33 points that they spread out in 7 larger areas:
Start with the most likely records
Go from the known to the unknown
Focus on one question at a time
Look for alternate spellings and nicknames
Do not trust indexes
Do not trust copies selected by someone else
Make friends with librarians and archivists
Start with a well-documented family group record
Research logs – keep good research logs for each family
Document and organize as you go
Search worldwide indexes for your family name
Look for death documents
Local histories, biographies and genealogies
Advanced Research Strategies:
Draw a timeline
Organize, review and evaluate evidence
Use forms to create new brain connections and raise questions
Expand the Number of Sources Used:
Substitute record types
Use Wiki articles as a checklist
Try an exhaustive preliminary survey
Search more libraries and archives
Search Records of Kin, Neighbors and Associates:
Find your relatives children
Research neighbors and relatives
Use Logic, Deduction, Inference, and Inspiration:
Create a master research plan
Correlate and integrate records of neighbors
Study migration patterns
Try to disprove uncertain connections
Listen to your feelings
Continue Education and Follow-Up:
Get an education
Share and collaborate
Genealogy in Time, an online magazine, wrote about 50 different ideas to tackle your impossible to find ancestors, here are a few suggestions:
Search for maiden names
Use middle names as first names
Use naming conventions (such as the Victorian way of oldest son – father’s father, second son – mothers father, third son – father; oldest daughter – mothers mother; second daughter – father’s mother; third daughter – mother)
Search by Village – sometimes searching records by a small village will have a bad transcription pop out because they are only a few pages they may be easier to tackle)
Be aware of changing jurisdictions (boundaries for towns, counties, states were always changing)
Port of Entry
Cemeteries – where they are buried and who they are buried near
Family associations that are for your last name
Lastly, that is not listed anywhere above is using DNA. By taking a DNA test that provides you with cousin matches, you may find someone who you are related too and it could provide an answer to the question you seek.
So many ideas that you can use to try to knock down your brick wall, or at least chisel away at them a bit. I was reading in one of the Facebook Groups I belong to today that one lady had a brick wall that lasted 35 years. I asked her how joyful her happy dance was after finally crashing it down last year and she said she is still dancing. I guess it puts in reality how my 4-years is really nothing.
If you have found yourself trying to find unknown ancestors and you have an idea that was extremely useful for you but not listed, please share in the comments below. I would love to explore more ways to find Andrew and Suzanna.
Back in late November during a Black Friday Sale I purchased my registration for all 3 days of classes at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference that was taking place at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio.
But of course, like so many other events, it was cancelled so here I sit, with my children, working from home instead of driving to Sandusky for a few days of family history fun.
So I’ve been thinking about what I can do to still give myself a conference experience.
I happen to have a subscription to Family Tree Webinars so I am able to watch as many webinars I want. But throughout this past April they’ve had a free webinar each day, and the Webinar Wednesdays are normally available for a week after it first airs for everyone to watch for free so you can utilize it for one of the days as well.
Check Out Some Podcasts
Podcasts are something I need to listen to more often. There are a variety of podcasts out there for you to enjoy for free. Here are some I’ve listened to and enjoy:
Generations Café by Amy Johnson Crow – these are fun to listen to and they tend to be on the shorter side, which I sometimes like. I don’t always have 90 minutes to spare to listen to a to longer ones in their entirety and these are just right.
The Genealogy Guys – I met George Morgan and Drew Smith at least year’s OGS Conference (and they were to be a part of the Meet & Greet last evening as part of the Genealogy Squad). They have lots of great information on their podcast.
Genealogy Gems – Lisa Louise Cooke always has an informative podcast on her website that is always filled with a variety of topics.
Extreme Genes – it’s America’s family history show! Hosted by Scott Fisher and David Allen Lambert, this successful podcast has topics pertaining to all sorts of areas to help you on your genealogical journey.
These are just a few that I’ve listed. If you Google “genealogy podcasts” you will get about 30 links that you can click on to see if anything flips your trigger, plus there are a bunch of articles that give you the “20 best genealogy podcasts” as well. I just gave you ones I knew existed and had checked out that were off the top of my head.
Read Some Books
Read! And it doesn’t have to be just genealogy based books (I’m presently reading the How to Do Everything Genealogy Fourth Edition by George G. Morgan – yes, same as mentioned above from the Genealogy Guys. It’s 480 pages and I’m loving it as it just gives me common sense suggestions that I may have overlooked as I have never read an intro book before). You can read books that relate to your relatives.
For example, I recently finished a book by John Fitzgerald called Dirty Mines and it went job by job on what coal miners did, beginning in the breakers for the young kids who could have been starting between the ages of 8 and 10 years old, to being an independent contractor as an actual full-fledge coal miner (they had to pay their helpers with the money they earned for each cart of coal). It was extremely enlightening as I really didn’t know much about what positions there were as you moved up the ladder. It also went into detail about the creation of the United Mine Workers and the Molly Maguires court cases where several men were executed for no other reason other than they were framed because everyone was in cahoots with the other – government, coal companies, judges. Several of my ancestors were coal miners, so this book was exactly what I was looking for to educate me a little more about this industry.
You can also read about the towns your family lived in, books relating to the historical happenings at a specific time of your ancestor, be it on a city, state, or country level. Sometimes international happenings can effect our people, too.
The same can be said for Civil War diaries. It may not be the diary of your ancestor, but it would still have similar details of what may have been going on with your relative.
Hang Out in Genealogy Facebook Groups
Lastly, to give me that true conference feel, going and posting questions or helping others with their family history journey will be the icing on the cake. By visiting some of the many family history groups I belong too on Facebook I should be able to get that wonderful vibe that I got last year about just communicating with others who have a love of this wonderful hobby (well, maybe obsession is a better word). If you have a Facebook account but haven’t checked out any of the genealogy group offerings, you are really missing out. It is so much fun to read of others’ tales of triumph and woe (well, maybe not fun for this, but there are some stories that definitely bring a tear to your eye).
A person’s family history journey is so special and unique, and being able to share it with others is wonderful. Not to mention the people in these groups are outstanding, I honestly we feel overall we are the friendliest of all the hobbies as we are always willing to lend a helping hand.
I will power through this and I’m sure I will find ways to successfully pass the time while I research my family members. Yesterday happened to be the 235th birthday of my 4th-great-grandfather and I realized I’d found and saved his information but hadn’t put any of it into my software program. So we are going to delve into Baltzer Morgart. He was born in 1785 and I know he ran the Morgart Tavern in Everett, Pennsylvania. I was able to see the building last summer (sadly, we knocked but no one was home to see if I could have gone inside). He died at the age of 68 in December 1853.
When researching your ancestors, do you have any stories to go along with each person? This tends to be the more difficult aspect of doing genealogy as it’s so easy to go on FamilySearch, Ancestry, Find My Past, or even MyHeritage and find out when and where they were born, where they lived throughout their lives and even when they died. But figuring out who they were is a bit more challenging.
One of the ways I have learned about my family members is using newspapers. There are a variety of options available for free and with subscriptions for you to find stories about your relatives.
Some historic newspapers are available for free (one of my favorite words). The most popular is Chronicling America ( https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) which is a joint endeavor between the Library of Congress and National Endowment of the Humanities. It has newspapers from 1789-1963 that are digitized for your use.
Another free option may be available with your library card is Newspaper Archive Academic Library Edition (my library has this and can be accessed from my house, check out to see if your library has a newspaper database similar to this).
Newspapers.com is one of the larger subscription sites for newspapers available for genealogy. They are owned by Ancestry.com so if you have a tree there, it is easy to attach the articles. Some subscriptions of Ancestry now include Newspapers.com (I believe you are accessing the articles through Ancestry searches though). Newspapers.com has 2 levels of subscriptions, basic and Publishers Extra. Publisher’s Extra is the higher priced edition but seems to have most of the newspapers I truly needed to find information and obituaries on my people (primarily because of the Akron Beacon Journal – but there were some key newspapers for the different areas of Pennsylvania I needed as well).
GenealogyBank is another popular website who is also expanding out from just newspapers to adding census information and the like. They have a great blog that is emailed out monthly as well.
Things to Look For
If you are going to spend the money on a subscription site I highly recommend looking at what newspapers that are available and the published years they have. I’ll confess I accidentally signed up for a subscription site and it was of no use to me because the issues they had published didn’t really help me in my genealogical searches (for example they had the Bedford Gazette from 1854-1857 only, and I needed from 1870 on). Both Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank list what newspapers they have available and their years of publication that is available on their sites (Newspapers.com will also note which newspapers are available on their more expensive level, Publishers Extra).
All of the websites have ways to narrow your search by state, date, name to help bring to light the information you are seeking.
What Can You Find?
You may be lucky enough to find all kinds of interesting tidbits about your relatives when you do newspaper searches. They can range from everyday occurrences to being a bit on the juicy side (older newspapers use to have sections detailing who checked in to the local hotels, and just good old “gossip” sections).
Below is one of my favorites that I discovered on a free weekend of Newspapers.com last Spring that actually convinced me to purchase a subscription. It is an article from The Potter Enterprise from the Thursday, February 11, 1904 edition:
Orienta (Gustin) Warner is my 3rd-Great-Grandmother on my mother’s side. They have her daughter’s name mis-typed here, it’s listed as Nellie but her nickname was Nettie. Her name is Jeanette Warner and she is my 3rd-Great-Aunt. I am assuming the fatherless child is her son, Thomas who was born in 1904.
In keeping with the same family, here is another article from The Potter Enterprise from August 14, 1913 edition – this actually lists my 2nd-Great-Grandmother (Mazie Warner Dunbar) twice, and her daughter (Myrtle Dunbar) once.
I’ve also learned that using newspapers can give you the full story on tragedies in your family as well. On my dad’s side, my 2nd-Great-Uncle, Charles Peter Childers, had 2-children die in a house fire. Going off stories typed up on Ancestry it makes it seem that half of his 13 children died in this fire, but when reading the newspaper headlines (along with finding the death certificates) you know it was only 2-children, Eva Childers, age 9 (the article is incorrect and have her listed as age 11) and Ralph Childers, age 2. This article I found using the library website. The below clippings (they were on 2-pages of the newspaper) is from the March 27, 1939 edition of the Altoona Mirror:
When I found the following article from the Akron Beacon Journal about my grandfather, Harold Fairhurst, my aunt proceeded to add to the story about how my grandfather had won a year’s supply of Pepsi for his hole in one, which jogged my memory of my mom telling me the same. It is from Thursday, September 17, 1964 edition:
I continue to learn a lot about my family members by using newspapers. If nothing else, they are a wonderful source for obtaining obituaries so I am able to fill in the burial date and cemeteries in my genealogy program if I don’t have a death certificate.
If you have never taken the time to investigate your family in newspapers, I recommend checking it out. The weekend Newspapers.com was free last year was amazing me for me as I found so much interesting information. Now, if it could only make it easier to find George Blair in Blair County, PA, then I’d be set (FYI – anytime Blair for the County is mentioned I get a ding so when I searched just now there are 1,299,020 possibilities in Pennsylvania alone).
If you find or have found any interesting stories using newspapers, please share in the comments!