When I began my family history journey, I remember how I made sure in countless ways before I added someone to my tree that they belonged. I had to have censuses showing that they were in the family with my relative for me to truly believe that they deserved to be on my tree.
I’ve been working on my tree for 4 years now and for the most part I have stayed true to this theory. Occasionally I will forego and add people I see, for example, many online trees had a Wealthy Blair listed as a daughter for my great-great-grandparents. Even my late cousin Darlene had Wealthy listed on a family sheet for the same said 2nd-great-grandparents. I’ve never found any information on her, she was born and died before 1880. When I look at the 1900 and 1910 Federal Census which asks how many total children a woman had, there are always 3 children that had passed for my great-great-grandmother, and I always assumed one was Wealthy (one other was Margaret, born in October 1879 and lastly an unknown child I just have listed on my tree as I have no birth or death dates for them).
But since I began organizing my DNA matches I’ve found myself getting envious of tree size. I see people with 48,987 people on their tree and my eyes just widen and my jaw drops. What a glorious tree!
And then I find myself going new person after new person checking out the hints and adding (always logically, but still adding) them to my tree. One after another and I’m fairly certain most of my people are legitimate people with fairly good dates off said hints (I am rational enough to NOT add people who were born 100 years earlier coming on a boat from England when they were born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania), but still, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in hints on Ancestry and the one big tree on FamilySearch.
So I’ve started over from scratch in a way. One by one I’m going through my people in my personal family tree software that I keep on my computer. This is my main tree, the tree I don’t really share with the world and the one I find to be the most accurate. I’m going through one by one and making sure all the documents that I have in my online folders are included on the tree. Some items I have, like the beforementioned great-great-grandmother who my late cousin Darlene hand wrote her obituary and this is the only way I have it, I knew I had it in an envelope of documents Darlene had sent me, and now I have scanned it and added it to her profile.
I’m also comparing them to the Ancestry tree just in case there is a random document that I have on there that I hadn’t downloaded (that happens sometimes when I’m out and about and am not on my regular computer to save the documents as easily). By doing this I can clean up the Ancestry tree at the same time.
In the long run I must remember it’s not the size of my tree that matters, it truly is quality that counts. I’ve worked so hard and I want to be 100% positive that I’m putting the correct people in my tree.
This was all brought to my attention when I was working on my mother’s side of the family. I’ve haven’t delved into the Fairhurst branch often, but I have learned there are many William and Thomas Fairhurst’s out there, and trying to make sure I select the correct one was getting me quite confused.
So I took a deep breath and slowed down. It’s not a race. I’ll find each and every ancestor when they want me to find them.
For the past few months I’ve been getting more and more intrigued in working with my DNA. Last year at this time I took a DNA test through Ancestry to solve a genealogy puzzle, and it worked, I discovered who I am fairly positive is my biological great-grandfather on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family.
With the announcement of Ancestry changing how they give us results and taking some of our matches away, I’ll admit, I have been like many who are probably plowing through their results as I type this hoping they can save something, anything that may be that key to a mystery.
This was my thinking. My darn brick wall consisting of Andrew Blair and Suzanna Akers (I think that’s her last name?). I was afraid that maybe, just maybe, one of those 6-7 centimorgan matches may be the answer I am seeking to break down my brick wall. The key to where my 3rd-Great-Grandfather was before he showed up on the 1850 Federal Census in Cambria County, Pennsylvania.
So I’ve been slaving away for the past week in my free time, trying to figure out who goes where. And don’t forget the many matches who you have no matches with.
All in all it’s exhausting.
I did stop for a little bit as one of my matches lines up to be the sister of Andrew. I will admit, someone’s tree on MyHeritage showed this relationship but I’d never seen head or tales of her. So this gave me hope.
So I plugged in an ominous “Blair” for their father and placed Sarah Permelia Blair as Andrew’s sister on my tree, wondering if maybe something, anything would come up for a mom, or even more information for a dad… but nothing.
So it also stated that Sarah was born in Washington County, Maryland. I began looking there for Blair’s listed on the 1810 Census (Sarah was born in 1816 and don’t you know there is an Andrew Jackson Blair who lived there in 1810??? Andrew Blair’s and Suzanna Aker’s second oldest son’s name is Andrew Jackson Blair – he is my 2nd-great-grandfather). So yes, I got really excited for about 30 seconds because this Andrew Jackson Blair’s son, Andrew Jackson Blair was born in 1825 and my Andrew has 4-censuses stating he was born between 1812-1815.
Do you think I can find any other information about this Andrew Jackson Blair quickly? No. However, I’m not a huge fan of Andrew Jackson, so with his being born in the late 1700’s and being named Andrew Jackson made my day as he wasn’t named after the War Hero/President (took a class in college while getting my history degree called “Jefferson to Jackson” and the more I learned the more I came to dislike both Jefferson and Jackson).
For the past year in my hunt for Blair men in Pennsylvania with people aged 25-30 in their house in the 1840 census, various names have repeatedly come to the forefront of my search, one being a John Blair. I finally decided to throw him and his wife as the parents of Andrew and Sarah into my Ancestry tree. They didn’t have an “Andrew Blair” listed on anyone else’s Ancestry tree, but they all have a gap in their children around 1812, so I figured it didn’t hurt to try. It took a long 24 hours but it gave me the answer I needed. I had 4 hits – it wasn’t enough for John Blair and Mary Perdew to be my 4th-great-grandparents (I’d had 23 matches with Andrew and Suzanna, so I should have had at least that many or more for them to lineup; more than 4 anyhow). Some would see this as a failure. I chose to see it as I had matches so I made progress. John Blair is a member of a much larger Blair family in Pennsylvania and it appears I may be in the ballpark for finding a connection. I quickly removed them as I have my tree public (I like to help others as I’ve viewed other’s trees for assistance over the years).
So I now only have a day or so to go before the algorithm changes for Ancestry’s DNA matches. I am still trying to get matches grouped but I am no longer in the rush I was. If I get any of the 6-7 centimorgan matches, great. I like to think I may not know what I’m missing. But I find organizing my matches fun. And I love that I have several on my dad’s side that have overlapped with my mom’s side. It’s funny – this particular branch of my dad’s are all settled in south central Pennsylvania while my mother’s is north central PA, all I can figure is that some came and met in the middle. Weird enough that my half sister (we don’t have the same dad) has a blue dot which represents my dad’s last name.
Fingers crossed that my DNA helps hold the key to my 4th-great-grandparents on my Blair side of the family, and this new algorithm is all that and more. Time will tell!
It was a work-filled day and then a longer than anticipated visit with my Daddy this evening – time really can fly when you are having good conversation. Hope you all had a good day and I know we can all appreciate this quote – isn’t it half of why we do genealogy? To keep our ancestors spirit alive?
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.
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.
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.