Genealogy, My Family Tree

The Endless Task – Organizing DNA Matches

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!

My Family Tree

Anna Maria Morgart

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.

Her Childhood

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.

Into Adulthood

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.

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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.

Anna Morgart 5Mar1933

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).

Everett_Press_Fri__Jul_7__1933_

I Do

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.

AnnaMMorgart-VadaBlair
Left to right – Bertha Childers (her back is towards us), Vada Blair, Anna Maria Morgart, and Charles Blair “Buddy” Reese.

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.

AnnaBlair-BobbyBlair-June1943

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).

NewHome-1449RoslynAve-17Mar1955

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.

BerthaChilders-MargaretWise-AnnaMorgartBlair-LeroyBlair-Skippy#1-1961

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.

003-BeckyBlair-TommyWeekly-CynthiaFairhurstBlair-AnnaMorgartBlair

This is my maternal grandmother, Alberta Lou Fleming Metzger, 65th Birthday Party.  From left to right is me (in black), Grandma Blair (aka Anna Maria Morgart in pink), Thomas Ray Weekley (blue stripes), my mom, Cynthia Anne Fairhurst Blair (polka dots). Oddly, the little bit of curly hair between my cousin Tommy and the beer can is my Grandma Metzger (Alberta Lou).

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).

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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.

I hope I make my Grandma proud.

And I hope she misses me as much as I miss her.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week #6: The Same Name

This week’s topic for 52 Ancestor’s in 52 Week’s is the Same Name.  Do you have ancestors with the same name?  You know the ones, they drive you crazy because they are all back to back to back and you aren’t sure which ancestor they are talking about because they are father and son and they overlap.

I have the same name.  Andrew Jackson.  Andrew Jackson is a name that turns up on both my paternal and maternal sides of my dad’s side of the family.  On my Blair side I my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather are both Andrew Jackson Blair’s with my great-great-great-grandfather being Andrew (he may be an Andrew Jackson as well but I’ve not had any confirmed documentation stating such).  Then on my grandma’s side I have a great-great-great-grandfather named Andrew Jackson Morgart.

Andrew Jackson Blair (1881-1926)

The first Andrew Jackson Blair I will discuss was my great-grandfather.  No one alive today ever knew him as he died before any of his grandchildren were born.  Andrew was a miner and died when rock began falling within one of the mines and it crushed his chest.  His brother-in-law, Abraham Childers, was injured when the ligaments in his leg were torn.

AJBlair

Above is the only photo known to have been taken of my great-grandfather.  The story is that it was taken as a group shot of his Sunday School class and they managed to snip him out of the group shot so we have it. When I was sent this photo a few months ago I was so happy, I love seeing what my relatives looked like.

I have never found any marriage record yet of when my great-grandparents wed.  But using Newspapers.com I have been able to piece together their marriage date of March 19, 1906.

Bedford_Gazette_Fri__Mar_23__1906_
Bedford Gazette, Friday, March 23, 1906

Andrew, or AJ as I have seen him regarded as often, was buried in South Fork Cemetery.

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Andrew Jackson Blair (1851-1899)

I don’t know a whole lot about my great-great-grandfather.  He was born in March 1851 in Cambria County, Pennsylvania and passed away of a Paralytic Stroke on June 20, 1899 in Bedford County, PA.  On the 1870 Census he was still living at home and was a woodchopper but in the 1880 census he had married the former Susan Jane Foster and had 3 children, all girls, and was a miner.  In the 1880’s he and his wife would have 3-boys and 2-girls to add to the mix, bringing their total children to 9.

Andrew is actually buried in Duvall Cemetery, which is on the land of his wife’s great-grandfather, Basil Foster. I didn’t see his grave when I visited last year, but I also was unaware of his being buried there until my final day in Pennsylvania when I discovered his death record at the Bedford County Courthouse.

Andrew Blair (@1812 – After 1880)

Andrew Blair is my 3rd-great-grandfather and also one of my biggest brick walls (the other is his wife, Susannah (Suzanna) Akers and his son, George Washington Blair).  Though he isn’t an Andrew Jackson, he is the Andrew that at least began it all (or so I think). I can honestly say I’ve not gotten any further than just the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses for my great-great-great-grandparents.  His occupation is just a laborer, and he rented his home so there is no land ownership.  In 1850 he lived in Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, then in 1860 he lived in Huston Township in Blair County, and in 1870 and 1880 he lived in Bedford County, first in Broad Top Township and then in Coaldale.

Along with a vague occupation, I have no definitive birth or death date for this elusive man.  One day I will find out more about my ancestor – it will just take time and plenty of patience.

Andrew Jackson Morgart (1824 – 1870)

On my grandmother’s side of the family is my 3rd-great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Morgart.  This Andrew Jackson was a farmer who lived in West Providence in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. On June 4, 1847 he married his wife, the former Rebecca O’Neal whom he had 10 children with, I’m an offspring of his oldest son, George Washington Morgart.

Andrew Jackson Morgart
Photo of Andrew Jackson Morgart by Teri Graham that was uploaded onto FamilySearch.org

He died August 19, 1870.  According to his obituary he must have been sick for a spell as death was not unexpected, but at the same time he was only 46-years-old.  Wow, that’s the same age I am, but he was actually younger as I’ll be 47 next week.

To Sum It Up

To my knowledge, these are all the Andrew Jackson’s in my family.  Now, Andrew Jackson Morgart did have a grandson named Charles Jackson but that’s another story for another time.

I guess the most fascinating part of having all these Andrew Jackson’s in my family is that in college I took a class entitled Jefferson to Jackson where it focused on the history of the United States while Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson where president.  During this time period Andrew Jackson was such a hero, saving our new country from the British in the War of 1812 which led to his presidency.  But I so disliked Andrew Jackson, still dislike him to this day.  It would just figure that I have all these relatives named after him.

Though a part of me would love for my Andrew Blair to be an Andrew Jackson Blair too – as he was born in 1812 (maybe sooner) it could possibly make it a family name and not in honor of the famous war hero.

But I am going to have to break down that brick wall first.

Genealogy

Using Maps for Family History

Are you like me, constantly looking at maps to see exactly where your family once roamed?  I’m always using the below map on the FamilySearch Wiki to solve brick walls, wondering where my next further back batch of relatives would come from or lived in relation to others.

PennsylvaniaClickableMap-FamilySearch

Just about all the relatives on my paternal side are found within the counties in the South-Western/Central portion of Pennsylvania. These counties would be Somerset, Bedford, Fulton, Cambria, Blair and Huntingdon counties.  But not all of these counties have always existed, at one point I believe most of the region was Bedford County (which is why I chose Bedford to visit in July 2019).

Maps can be very helpful for locating where your ancestor’s records are kept.  Records tend to stay with the county of when they were created.  So if your family’s land is in what is now Blair County – since it was formed from Bedford County and Huntingdon County – if the records you seek are prior to 1846 – you will need to look in either Bedford or Huntingdon Counties.

An article on GenealogyBank.com by Gena Philibert-Ortega states, “Maps help you follow migration patterns, learn more about the place your ancestor lived, determine the location of cities that no longer exist, show changes in county boundaries, and verify land your ancestor owned.”

You may be lucky enough to find a map that even shows where your ancestors lived without your even plotting it.  Below is a map that I photocopied out of the “County Atlas of Bedford Pennsylvania” and it shows the land where both my 2x-Great-Grandfather lived (G. Morgart) and my 3x-Great-Grandfather lived (A. Morgart).  It turns out B. Hughes is a distant relative as well, and he married my 2x-Great-Grandmother when George Morgart passed away. I’m most likely related to the Ritchey’s as my aforementioned 2x-Great-Grandmother was Mary Ann Ritchey, and she had 2 brothers with the first name beginning with D.

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Gazetteers

According to Wikipedia, a gazetteer is “a geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas. It typically contains information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent”.

These books are essential as they normally list the names of places that may not even exist in an area anymore, which can be very important for finding information on your family. Gazetteers can also provide the history of an area, including photographs.

David Rumsey Map Collection

A great website to find historical maps is the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. The collection began about 30 years ago and includes over 150,000 maps spanning between the 16th through 21st centuries from across the world.  The digitizations began in 1996 and include over 95,000 pieces.  The real pieces are housed in the David Rumsey Map Center in Stanford library.

Mapping Software

If you find yourself trying to purchase a ton of books to find the maps you need, you can always turn to mapping software for computers.  These programs work by you typing in your location and then you can scroll through the years watching the boundaries change before your eyes, giving you the exact county within your state (if in the United States) of where your ancestor lived at a specific point in time.  This makes it convenient so you know where to look for the records you seek (remember, records stay with the county).

Examples of these programs are AniMapFamily Atlas,  or you can go the free route and use Google Earth.  One of the nice features of using Google Earth is that it is programmed with some of the David Rumsey maps that you can overlay where your ancestors lived at various points in history, so you can walk where they walked, so to speak (please note you’ll have to download the software for your computer for the Rumsey maps to work, but don’t worry, it’s still free!).

Just Google It

One of the other functions I used for my more recent ancestors is simply putting the address of where my ancestors lived that I have found using City Directories in Google so I can see the homes where my family members once lived.  More often than not the house is still standing (I will often refer to the real estate tax site for my county as well just to confirm when the house was built). By seeing what the house looks like in advance I am able to drive by and find it more easily.

My mother’s side of the family settled where I live around 1916 and a majority of her side of the family is still here.  Because of where they originally made their home each day when I drive to work I pass where my great-great-grandmother and her husband had their store.  And I found it using the City Directory to obtain the address and putting the address into Google.

City Directory
1924 Akron City Directory

331 Howard St
Google Image searched on 28 Jan 2020

In a Nutshell

Maps offer us so much information.  They are visual so it can open up an entirely new world to your research.  You can see how far apart relatives live.  If you’re tackling a brick wall and you see someone far away from any other place they’ve lived it might have you question “Is this person mine?” as the migration patterns can become quite apparent once you begin plotting addresses.

I’ve always referred to maps in my search for my family history, but I am at the point I’m really going to start plotting out where they lived just to get a better idea of where their proximity to others so I can wrap my head around things.

If you have used maps please feel free to share your tips and what you use to visually track your relatives and get a feel for where they lived.

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week #2: My Favorite Photo

My favorite photo from my family history journey?  I have to pick just one?  I have so many that seeing an ancestor seems to have changed my life that picking just one seems so difficult.  Until I realize it isn’t.

The photo I chose is actually (at the present anyhow) a part of my header here on my blog.

BerthaChilders-MargaretWise-AnnaMorgartBlair-LeroyBlair-Skippy#1-1961

I’ve included it just as it was scanned off my dad’s flatbed scanner that he is allowing me to use.  This photo includes 2-great-grandmothers and my paternal grandparents.  It was taken at my grandparent’s house in Akron, Ohio in 1961.  From left to right is Bertha Childers, Margaret “Maggie” Wise, Anna Maria Morgart, and Leroy Blair.  This photo just seems to exemplify the personalities of them all and just looking at it brings a smile to my face.

Bertha Childers

I’ve heard from more than one person that Bertha (aka Mrs. Chappell, the last name of her second husband) was always mad at someone.  So seeing her cross on the end of the sofa makes me wonder which of my other relatives was she upset with? Bertha is the mother of my grandfather, Leroy Blair. I never had the chance to meet Bertha, she passed away in 1963.

Margaret “Maggie” Wise

Next up is Maggie Wise, my Grandma’s mom.  I actually have very fuzzy memories of visiting Gammy (that’s what her grandkids called her) in the nursing home when we went back to Pennsylvania to visit.  I only recall meeting her a few times, and she passed away at the age of 96 in 1987 (I was 14 at the time). She always seemed happy and I remember her playing the “mouth organ” or harmonica.

My Paternal Grandparents

I love seeing my grandparents (Anna Maria Morgart and Leroy Blair) so happy in this picture.  Now it’s hard to make out, even with the original photo in your hand, but from the note on the back of it, they are playing with a bird (not just any bird mind you, Skippy #1.  My Grandma Blair went on to name every bird she had Skippy over the years, so it’s rather cool to see the original). Not having ever met my grandfather, I never knew that much about him, and stories seemed to fall all over the place.  Seeing him having a good time with my Grandma makes me happy.

Anna Maria Morgart

My Grandma Blair was probably the best friend I will ever have.  I could talk to her about anything and she never judged, just listened, and gave me the best advice she thought I needed.  Gosh, I miss her.  She passed away almost 13 years ago but sometimes the pain seems like it was yesterday.

Leroy Blair

My grandfather, affectionately called Pappy, died when I was 2-years-old so I really don’t have any recollections of him.  My mom’s favorite story of him was how every time he came over to our house, I’d be asleep and he would say “I just want to go in a look at her” and somehow I always woke up.  I have heard from other relatives how he just loved little girls and he would have probably spoiled me rotten (not that he wasn’t fond of my dad). I wish I could have had him in my life.  He seems like he was just a good man, and in the end, isn’t that what you want from your relatives?

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

If you are interested in doing your own writing journey, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is where you can sign up and see the listing of all the prompts for this year’s challenge.

 

Genealogy

Death Certificates

Death certificates are one of my favorite tools to find when working on my family tree.  Granted it’s always sad that your ancestor passed away, but death certificates offer so much information that when you find them it’s like hitting the family history jackpot.

Different States, Different Availability

The downside of death certificates when searching in the United States is that each state differs when they began keeping vital statistic records, and their availability for each is different as well.  I am fortunate that I live in the state of Ohio and we can go and get a birth certificate from anywhere, at any time.  There are limitations, like you have to be in the county where the person died (my grandfathers are both eluding me as one died in Jefferson County and the other in Monroe), or if the person passed away between 1908-1953 you can find them on FamilySearch but if they died between 1954-1963 you have to contact the Ohio History Center in Columbus to obtain those.  The cost is $7 plus tax but I can honestly say when I mailed in my check for the two I needed, I sent away on a Thursday and my death certificates were emailed to me the following Monday (my check hadn’t even cleared yet).

Most of my relatives are from Pennsylvania which has a much stricter policy for the release of their vital statistics.  Birth certificates are available 106 years after birth.  Death certificates are available 50 years after they die. Next year I will finally be able to get my grandmother’s birth certificate as she was born in 1914.  I will be ordering my grandfather’s at the same time as he was born in 1912.

Make sure you check with the state you are researching to find out when you are able to obtain these valuable vital statistics records and find out how much it will cost to obtain these records.  In Pennsylvania, it is presently $5 each.

Birth Certificates vs. Death Certificates

Though birth certificates are very important (when recently coming across my great-aunt’s birth certificate on Ancestry, I discovered that her father was not my great-grandfather). Death certificates give you birth dates, death dates, spouse, parent’s names, where they are buried, if they are buried, when they were buried, how they died, where they lived, where they were born.  Granted, the information is only as reliable as the informant, but it gives you something to go with as far as your person is concerned, especially if you know little about the person.

My Most Memorable Death Certificate

My most surprising death certificate I found using Ancestry Library Edition.  I am fortunate for my local library to have this, and so I would often go to my local branch and spend an hour or more at least once a week utilizing the records they had.  This is when I came across my second cousin twice removed’s death certificate.

RalphReedDeathCertificate

Discovering that one of your relatives was executed by the state of Ohio is always a little alarming.  I am sure if I ever find another (I truly hope I don’t) that I will be just as amazed.  (And I know I’ve shown this before, but some surprises you just never get over).

However, look at all the information that you can discover on the above death certificate.

  • Name: Ralph Reed
  • Birth Date: 1 Jun 1921
  • Place of Birth: Johnstown, Cambria, Pennsylvania
  • Father: Thomas Reed
  • Mother: Margaret Phillips
  • Occupation: Baker
  • Date of Death: 4 May 1949
  • Place of Death: Columbus, Franklin, Ohio
  • Cause of Death: Electrocution by Legal Execution
  • Informant: Mrs. Margaret Reed (his mother)
  • Burial: Headrick Cemetery
  • Date of Burial: 7 May 1949

All this information is from one piece of paper. Now in Ralph’s case, we are fortunate that the informant was his mother so it was a person who had a great deal of knowledge of his life.  Many times we aren’t as lucky.  So often I find “I don’t know” or “Unknown” for a parent’s name because the children of a person aren’t always aware of their grandparent’s names, especially if they passed away before they were born.

It is highly recommended that you gather all the vital statistics that you can for each member of your family.  These include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates.

New England States

Most states began keeping death records between 1900-1930.  If you are lucky enough to have relatives in the New England states where religion was the backbone of the community, you will be fortunate to have ledgers with birth and death dates.  When I was finally able to leave Potter County, Pennsylvania and go to Franklin/Hampshire County, Massachusetts, I was amazed at how many vital statistic records I was able to obtain for my family where they were absent in PA.

The Frontier

As settlers moved west towards the new frontier, keeping records wasn’t at the top priority.  As far as religion went, most of these areas had itinerant ministers.  These circuit riders went from community to community, performing weddings, baptisms, and possibly funerals, but the documents weren’t always filed.  This is why records throughout the mid-west are more challenging to find.

In Bedford County, Pennsylvania, where a majority of my father’s family came from, records are available in a handwritten book from 1890 to 1905.  But anything before that is a mystery, often relying on gravestones for the answers for vital records, along with census records for birth dates.

Sources for Family History

Though there are many important documents to find in genealogy, I find that death certificates are one of the more important ones.  Death certificates don’t always have the answers you are seeking for your people, but they are still valuable documents to have in your possession to obtain needed information about your ancestors.  I know I presently have a death certificate for my second great-great-uncle and it is the only hint I have of what my third great-grandmother’s name is (I’m still hoping to hunt down her fourth living child in a hope of his death certificate giving me the same name).  Both Ancestry and FamilySearch provide online images of death certificates so utilize these valuable sources, you never know what kind of interesting facts you will discover about your ancestors.

Genealogy

How to use PERSI

Are you in the same boat as me and really get befuddled on how to use PERSI?  In case you are unaware of what PERSI is, it is the PERiodical Source Index (PERSI for short).  Ever since I took my first class at my local library about genealogy I have heard nothing but wonderful things about PERSI.  Trouble is – I can never seem to have any success with it myself.  So today’s goal is to learn what PERSI is, and how to use it.

What is PERSI?

So I know I already told you it is the PERiodical Source Index but what is it really? Organized by the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center (ACPLGA) and Find My Past, PERSI connects you with thousands of articles for genealogy and local history.  Though initially just an index relaying articles and their locations to users, the ACPLGA and Find My Past are working to digitize the articles to give family historians instant gratification.

How to Use PERSI

I’ve always understood what PERSI is, my trouble has been actually using it.  So here are some tips I’ve accumulated in my search.

How to Find PERSI

PERSI can be found by going to Find My Past, then using the toolbar at the top of the screen select “Search” and then when the pull-down menu appears select “Newspapers and Periodicals”.

Search for PERSI

On the left-hand side of the screen near the top you will see a heading “Choose from Our Collections”, fill in the dot next to “PERiodical Source Index” and you’ll be ready to go!

PERSI Screen

PERSI is Subject Based

It does not search the text of articles, it searches the terms or keywords assigned to articles by the people who created PERSI.  For example, you may come across an article that is all about your family, but if the person who indexed the article just assigned it “Bedford County” (where your people may have lived) searching for your family name will give you 0 hits. For best results you are better off to use the “Where” or “What Else” options on the search bar.

PERSI Search

Lots of Filters

PERSI provides you with nine different filters to help narrow the number of results you receive.  These filters include: last names, country, state, county, town/city, subject, keyword, and database title. These are located down the left-hand side of the screen.

Since the world knows I have family in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, I went ahead and did a search on Bedford.  By just putting Bedford County, Pa in the “Where” box (see above), I ended up getting 4,359 hits. This included places in England, Massachusetts, etc., which was amazing as I had Pennsylvania as part of my where.

By filling in the country, state, and county fillers along the left-hand side of the screen, I lessened my hits to 1,350.  Here is a screenshot:

PERSI Screen

Please Note

If you click on an article, it is not going to take you to the page you are seeking.  You will most likely have to read/skim through a book/paper/article to find the information you are seeking.  Try to be optimistic, this may be a good thing as you may find more information than you bargained for which is a big YAY!

Remember, not all articles/books/papers have been digitized so some books you may have to do an interlibrary loan to see.  I know earlier today I found an article from the Bedford County Historical Society that was done on my 5x Great Grandfather, Peter Morgart, in their newsletter.  I am attempting to see if they have past newsletters online, or if I need to pay for a copy of that 1994 newsletter.  I’ll keep you posted, it’s presently a Saturday and they are closed.

Lastly, you are able to search PERSI for free but to view records you do need a subscription to Find My Past.  I know I don’t always have a subscription for all the different sites for genealogy but I know my local library (at least my Main Library) has the library edition of  Find My Past for free where you can view the documents that are digitized. If you find an item that isn’t digitized, you would already be at the library and maybe you can set up an inter-library loan.

I’ll probably update this in the future.  I presently have a simple subscription to Find My Past from when I joined my state genealogical society.  It goes bye-bye in December so I am going to try to focus some of my research endeavors on here so I can utilize it before it’s gone (I say simple as I have learned many documents I need to view for my English ancestors are a higher subscription than the free one I received for signing up with my state society).

Just another valuable tool to maybe help you get the final piece of a puzzle for your ancestors.  Good luck searching!

Genealogy, My Family Tree

Preparing for a Research Trip

Have you ever gone on a research trip for your family history?  Next week I am going on my first trip.  I am so excited.  I knew my children wouldn’t be so my dad has been nice enough to care for them and the dog while my husband and I head to Bedford County, Pennsylvania (about 4 hours from our home) so I can do a cemetery search and hopefully find original land and probate records from my relatives who passed away over a hundred years ago.

Having never gone on a trip like this before, I am sure there are lots of mistakes that I am making, so I decided to watch a very informative webinar by Family Tree Webinars that was given by Nicka Smith entitled “Get Set, GO! Planning and Executing a Successful Research Trip”.  I was amazed at how many things I hadn’t really thought of doing, so that’s when I started getting my ducks in a row.

I then turned to the book I purchased about a month ago, “Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher” by Drew Smith (after listening to the Genealogy Guys Podcast I realized how knowledgeable he is, AND he sat next to me at the Meet and Greet at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in early May).  In his book, Drew has an entire chapter dedicated to getting organized for a research trip.

Stay Focused

Both Nicka and Drew have various details in common:  stay focused on what you are going there to research, have a plan, call ahead – make sure the places you are going to research are open the day that you are planning on going, AND find out if what you want to research is on site for you to look through, space can be limited for historical documents and it’s entirely possible that the land records from 1873 are off-property but if you call a few days in advance, they could have them waiting there for you when you plan on being there.

“Focus” was the word.  Bright, shiny objects are always a threat when you are researching but can especially happen when you are on a research trip.  This is where apps like Evernote or OneNote can come in handy – note your find, mark down the book you found your information in and either come back to it if you found everything you were looking for – or look for it on another trip.

I know I am presently still figuring out all that I need to look at.  I have so many empty holes for specific people at various points in my tree that I am a bit overwhelmed at what exactly I am going to be looking for.  Besides visiting the Bedford County Courthouse (which is my second visit) it has been highly recommended to me to visit the Bedford County Historical Society.  I have a feeling that I may end up finding a bunch of information at the Historical Society, but I am not 100% certain what all they have (I keep getting snippets of information in my Facebook Group that they have a lot. The Historical Society also acts as the Genealogical Society as well).

Questions to Ask

  • What hours are they open (you can’t always go by what their website states)?
  • Am I able to take photos of what I find with my phone?
  • If I can’t, how much does it cost to make copies?
  • Is everything I may want to research available, or are there items I need to request in advance?

You want to be as prepared as you can possibly be for your trip, as you don’t want to have driven a long way and be disappointed.

Another tip that I read in a Genealogy Gems blog by Lisa Louise Cooke is to be patient.  Things may not go as smoothly as you envisioned in your head (things seldom do) but if you keep a good mindset and roll with the punches, it will allow you to have a wonderful trip.

Below is a very simplistic page I created (reminiscent of one in the webinar by Nicka Smith) as a way to keep me focused on my cemetery search that is going to take place on Monday.  I’ve listed the cemeteries, who is buried there, and then I can come up with a few others who I am not sure where they are buried (for example, my great-great-grandmother Susan Jane Foster is buried at South Fork Cemetery, but I’m uncertain if her husband is buried there too.  He died before death certificates were mandatory (in 1899) so I don’t have a slip of paper telling me where he is buried (yet – can you say that’s part of why I’m visiting the Bedford County Historical Society) but I’m hoping that maybe I will find him buried with her (or possibly with his children as Susan Jane didn’t pass until 1943).  The purpose is to keep myself focused and I think this will do the job (like the little checkboxes?). The blank space to the right is for notes.

PA Research Trip

Most of those I have listed are direct line relatives.  I’m sure if I see others I’ll photograph them.  Those with an asterisk have special importance to me, so they are the exception to the direct line rule (I have essentially 3 days, I’m trying to acquire as much as I can but distant aunts, uncles, and cousins can wait).

I’ll update you on my progress next week.  My husband thought I’d be able to visit everything in just a few days.  I have relatives from Bedford, Fulton, Somerset, Cambria and Huntingdon counties in Pennsylvania, unless I am the world’s fastest and most efficient researcher, I don’t see conquering 4 counties in 2 days, not with both sides on my paternal side of my family to seek information on.

Do you have any tips or suggestions – I feel like in all I’ve read and watched I’m missing something critical to share with you.  I’m sure I’ll think of it as soon as I hit “send”. I’d love to hear about anyone’s experience on their own visits to their families homeland. I am super excited to see mine and I’m meeting with a distant cousin and will get copies of photos of family members I’ve not seen.

Wish me luck!

Genealogy, My Family Tree

Make Sure You Look at Everything on the Census!

For two years I’ve had a brick wall in my great-great aunt Margaret Blair who was born in October 1879.  She is on the 1880 census as this is how I know she lived.  She has been one of my biggest mysteries.  By the time the 1900 census comes around, Margaret would have been 20 so I never knew if she had passed away in childhood or just gotten married with her license just eluding me.

Frustrated I reached out to two different Facebook groups last Friday where I received great advice and suggestions from so many supportive family historians.  One very helpful commenter suggested that I examine the 1900 and 1910 census because they both state how many total children a woman had and how many were still alive.

You know that emoji where it looks like a woman smacking herself on the forehead?  It’s my favorite emoji, and my most used.  That was me after reading the recommendation. OVER TWO YEARS and the answer was in front of me the entire time.

I remembered seeing that column on the census way back when I first found the censuses for many family members.

So make sure you know what your census has to offer.  Over the years the US government has asked different questions of its population on the census forms.

1790 Census

The first census of the United States was pretty basic.  It was all about free white males 16 and older, free white males under 16, free white females of all ages were lumped together, then other free persons, and then slaves. Only the heads of household were listed, along with the state and county.

1800 Census

The second census of the United States expanded on the first one, where it became a little more precise with the age groups of the free white males and free white females, then it was all other free persons, and then slaves.

1810 Census

The third census of the United States was not really that creative and was pretty much the same as in 1800.

1820 Census

The fourth census of the United States still had the same breakdown of free white males and free white females, but this particular year they were interested about foreigners who were not yet naturalized, who was earning a living in agriculture, commerce or manufacturing, then it went into more detail about the ages of slaves, and the ages of free colored persons.

1830 Census

The fifth census of the United States was more of the same, but along with the age increments of all segments of the population, the government also wanted to know who was deaf, dumb (as in couldn’t speak), blind (these were also spread out below age 14, between 14 and 25, and above 25 for both whites and blacks), and they still wanted to know who was an unnaturalized foreigner.

1840 Census

The sixth census of the United States was similar to the 1830 census, but it was also curious about who were pensioners of the Revolutionary War, occupations expanded from just three categories to mining, agriculture, manufacturing, navigation of the ocean, navigation of lakes and rivers, or worked as a professional engineer. There were also questions referencing education/college.

1850 Census

The seventh census of the United States, also the first census most people like as it lists the name of everyone living in a house, age, sex, color, value of real estate, profession, place of birth, married, if they attended school, if they could read or write, and whether deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict.

1860 Census

The eighth census of the United States was very similar to the 1850 census but along with the value of the real estate, it also asked the value of one’s personal estate.

1870 Census

The ninth census of the United States inquired a lot of the basic information of 1860, but was curious about whether your parents were foreign-born and if so, where?  Also asked if you were born or married within the past year, what month? If you had attended school within the past year?  And if you were a male citizen 21 years or older, and if you were 21 and older and if your right to vote is denied due to crimes or rebellion.

1880 Census

The tenth census of the United States began asking questions such as what street you lived on, your relation to the head of the household, single, married, widow, your profession, if you had been unemployed in the past year, if you were sick or disabled, blind, deaf, dumb, insane, if you had attended school, and where you born, and where your parents were born.

1900 Census

The twelfth census of the United States was the first of two with how many children a woman bore and how many survived as of the census, it also asked what year you immigrated to the US, and how long you have lived here, and if you were naturalized.  It asked for a profession, if you attended school, knew English and if you owned or rented your home, if it was a farm or a house, and the farm schedule.

1910 Census

The thirteenth census of the United States delved a little deeper into one’s profession, only cared to know if you were deaf or blind, and also asked if you were an Army or Navy member during the Civil War.

1920 Census

The fourteenth census of the United States delved a little deeper into the ethnicity of people, as it asked where you from but also your mother tongue for both fathers and mothers as well as oneself.

1930 Census

The fifteenth census of the United States was similar to the previous ones, but it also asked what your age on your last birthday was, how old you were when you married, whether you were a veteran, did you work?

1940 Census

The sixteenth census of the United States along with all the information of the previous census’ wanted to know what your highest level/grade of school,  if the individual worked for the WPA, what your occupation was and the industry you worked for, and how much money you made.

Margaret

I had seen the line items on the 1900 and 1910 census about the number of children born and the number of children who were still surviving at the point in time.  Here is the 1910 Census for my great-great-grandmother, Susan Jane Foster (Blair). Both the 1900 and the 1910 Census state the same numbers, but on the 1910 census she is at the top of a sheet.

1910 Census

Susan had 9 total children and 6 survived.  I can account for her 6 living children: Phoebe Jane Blair, Loretto Jane Blair, Andrew Jackson Blair, Minnie Blair, William Blair, and John Blair.  She had 3 that died, Margaret was one of them.

This had me sad.  I really hoped she ran off and got married and I just hadn’t tracked her marriage information yet.  In a months time, I’m going to head to Pennsylvania and visit some relatives, cemeteries and the Bedford County courthouse, where I hope I am able to find out what happened to poor Margaret.  I have two others to find as well.

The Moral of the Story

Pay attention to the details that your census offers, because even though they give you names and approximate birth dates for your ancestors, they can solve your brick walls too.

So many of us use computer programs where we upload the document into our system, and yes we look at enumeration districts and who else is listed when we share our document with all who are on it for citations but do we really KNOW what it’s telling us?

So your homework is to go print off clean copies of the census, and transcribe what you see onto the clean sheet of paper for your relatives, so you can know them better, and tell their stories in a whole new way.

 

Genealogy

The Most Important Thing I Learned at My Conference

Last week I attended the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in Mason, Ohio and there was one topic that was repeated no matter what the subject of the class was… FamilySearch, Ohio Archives, Finding Females, Newspapers, British Roots, Bright Shiny Objects… and that was you should always have a research plan.

Why Should You Follow a Research Plan?

I’ll confess, the closest I come to having a plan when it comes to my own genealogical journey is beginning each day with an “I think I’ll work on my great-great-great-grandfather, George Henry Fesler” today and I proceed to enter into my program all the information I have and search for the documents that I don’t.

But having a research plan can keep you focused.  It can help you from getting distracted by the beforementioned bright shiny objects (I’m sure you have come into contact with those – a document that you find or information on another ancestor that you stumble upon that you just HAVE to follow up on RIGHT NOW).

The Steps of a Research Plan

Steps in a Research Plan

Depending on the website you seek your information from, recommended research plans seem to fall between 5 and 7 steps. Most that were gone over in my classes seemed to go with 5-steps.

1. What is Your Objective?

It’s always best to know what it is you want to know before you sit down and begin randomly searching for information.  Even I when I just decide “I’m going to work on researching my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather George Henry Fesler”, I have identified who I want to research.  I’m in the process of still adding many family members to the software that I use, or sometimes I have the basic information down (to fill in a fan chart or such) but I need to add documents, events, and sources.

2. What Information Do You Already Have?

It’s always best to double check the information that you have already acquired for a person because you may already have the answer that you seek.  And by finding out what information you have, narrows down the information you still need to seek.  Sometimes it’s helpful to even look at other close relatives such as father’s because you may be missing a census in one file but have it in another (assuming you file by the head of household).

Going back to my example of George Henry Fesler, I had a number of files that I had downloaded, and when I was adding them to my software I often don’t have the information for the citations handy and will either re-find the document on FamilySearch or Ancestry.com for this.  Here on my personal family tree on Ancestry.com I saw where I had attached George’s death certificate, but I never downloaded the file. Lucky for me my husband had a 14-day free trial of Ancestry that hadn’t been used and I was able to instantly download the death certificate (don’t worry, if this was not a possibility I would have gone to the library and used the free Ancestry Library Edition).

3. Create a Hypothesis on What You Believe to be True?

Hypothesis is such a big word.  It makes me think of tenth grade when I had to write a term paper for my Expository Writing Class.  I’m sure I learned about it in science too, but the term paper really seems to strike a chord.

According to Wikipedia, a hypothesis is “a proposed explanation for phenomenon”. Basically, it’s the information you think you will find.

For example, I think George Henry Fesler, my great-great-great grandfather, died in Wells Tannery, Pennsylvania.

Until I re-discovered his death certificate attached to my tree on Ancestry.com, I wasn’t 100% certain where George passed.

4. What Records Will Prove Your Hypothesis?

To prove or disprove your hypothesis you will need to find records that will either support or discredit what you believe.  These are often government documents such as census records, death certificates, pension files, or published records such as city directories, or an obituary in the paper.

What records will I need to prove that George Henry Fesler died in Wells Tannery, Pennsylvania?  I know that his death certificate will be helpful, possibly his grave, census records could assist with letting me know precise locations of where he lived every ten years before his death. Where he is buried helps, but a person can die anywhere (my great-great-grandmother’s 2nd husband died on a trip visiting family in Illinois and he lived in Akron, Ohio), often they live in the vicinity of where they are buried or reside.

5. Do Your Research!

Now you find those documents I mentioned above that you don’t have.  I was lucky enough to discover my great-great-great-grandfather’s death certificate was somewhat in my possession.  George actually lived in Wells Township in Fulton County, Pennsylvania pretty much his entire life.  He is buried at Wells Valley Methodist Cemetery in Wells Tannery.  He was born in Bedford County, but all the census’ from 1850-1910 have him living in Wells Township.

A Way to Stay Focused

Researching with a plan is going to be my new motto.  It’s one thing to attend maybe one or two classes where it was mentioned – but I attended 6 classes each day at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference (and I went to 6 classes each day – despite recommendations to possibly sit out a time to mingle with others – there was too much to learn) and I would say at least 3 classes each day began with how important research plans are.

Research plans help you stay focused.  Sure you’re going to come across bright shiny objects but as Lisa Louise Cooke stated – “embrace them, save them for later” and keep your focus on your task at hand.  You can always spend time another day just following up on those unexpected gems.

So the next time you decide to sit down for a spell of working on your family history, trying creating a research plan and let me know if you find it to be helpful or a hindrance.

Happy Hunting!