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Sometimes it can seem as if there is a civil war going on in the genealogical community. After we start researching our families, at some point we hear about the necessity of source citations. Once we figure out exactly what they are, and we see a few, some of us think, “That looks complicated. I don’t have time to do all that.” Or we know we need to do them, and just never get around to it. Or we actually don’t understand how to create them. Or people disagree on the format. Some think it’s just for those “high and mighty” oh-so-serious researchers. When someone asks where we got a piece of information, we think saying “the 1930 census” should be sufficient. We honestly believe we will be able to remember where we got everything. We don’t foresee the paper (and now electronic) chaos of five or ten years later down the road.

Then one day, it happens to us: We see a death date we have recorded in Family Tree Maker for Uncle Bob and honestly have no idea where we got it from. We check a record at a library only to realize we’ve already checked that record. Oh dear.

My first few years of research were indeed spent in the fog of not knowing about and not understanding source citations. Critical pieces of my early research have incomplete or missing sources.

Let me give just one very simple example of how understanding source citations allow for better research analysis and conclusions. I use this example in my class to illustrate the value of citations as well as the importance of examining original sources.

This is a source citation to the marriage of my 3rd great-grandfather, whose full name is Baltimore Merriman:

“Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry/search/: accessed 4 May 2011) entry for Batty Merryman, 24 January 1868, Spokane; citing “Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002, microfilm, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.”

The citation above makes it clear that the document was reviewed from a database on Ancestry. Shown below is the image itself (I have clipped just my ancestor’s info):

Merriman Part 1

Merriman Part 1

Part 2

Part 2

 The transcriber has recorded the couple’s names as “Batty Merryman” and “Martha Barb.” But I’ve learned to be a diligent researcher. When inspecting the actual image, the first name “Martha” cannot actually be seen, nor can any of her surname. You can sort of make out the “M” but not anything else. Clearly there is water damage in the image, but the transcribed marriage date itself appears to be accurate (2nd image above). But I’m certainly not going to use this unknown transcriber’s interpretation of Baltimore’s wife’s name when I can’t see it myself.

Now, let’s look at another source citation for the same information–the marriage of Baltimore Merriman:

Hardin County, Tennessee, Marriage Records, Vol 1: 106, Balty Merryman to Martha Bailey, 24 January 1868; County Clerk’s Office, Savannah.

This citation tells me the information came from the Hardin County, Tennessee courthouse. And take a look at that image:

Baltimore Merriman Marriage

Baltimore Merriman Marriage

Getting to the original source now reveals the surname of my 3rd great-grandmother: Martha Bailey.

This is one small example of the power of source citations when you understand to use and read them accurately. You will know where that information came from and you can then try to find other places or sources (or just a clearer copy) for the information.

Three of my top reasons to diligently cite our sources:

1) We (and others) need to know exactly what sources we are basing our research on, and where we got those sources from.

2) We want to draw the most accurate conclusions, which can only be judged from the breadth, depth and accuracy of our sources.

3) We often invest decades of our lives to this quest; we want our life’s work to be considered credible.

Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book Evidence Explained (and website) is the Bible for creating genealogical source citations for good reason. Not only is it organized beautifully into categories of sources, Ms. Mills meticulously and clearly explains the why, what and how for each and every kind of source. I also highly recommend visiting the website above; she hosts a forum where genealogists answer questions about source citations, which I have made use of many times.

My personal process is to record all of the information needed for a proper source citation as I am researching. Usually every few months or so, I write-up the research on that line or person or whatever I was researching, and I have Ms. Mills’ book beside me. I turn each and every fact I uncovered into a proper source citation.

It takes a lot of time to do citations. But the payoff is incredible, and well-worth it.

P.S.: I wrote about this subject back in 2009 and that post is still a good read.

Vivian Waters

Vivian Waters

Yesterday, my family celebrated the homegoing of Vivian Waters. The sun was showing off a little for February and it was a perfect day for the transition of a spirit like hers from this world into the next.

Vivian was raised first on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and then later grew up in Philadelphia. She was hardworking from a young age, as most children of the Depression era were, and believed with a vengeance in education. She attended Delaware State College, where she met her husband Wellington Waters ( who was the brother of my grandmother Pauline). Vivian later completed her degree in French Studies at Howard University. She raised four children with her husband, giving them every educational opportunity possible and raising them with a firm hand of discipline. Her children and grandchildren were always at the center of her heart.

It had only been recently, within the last four years, that I got to know Auntie Vivian (as I affectionately called her) much better. Before, I’d mostly only seen her at family gatherings, but these last four years, we’d seen a lot of more of one another during the illness leading up to her son Skip’s 2010 passing from cancer.

Vivian had a wry sense of humor and loved to laugh. She was a master storyteller and had an opinion on everything. Though a small woman in stature, she had a larger-than-life presence. She had the kind of wisdom birthed from experiencing the hardships of life.

Vivian was a “tough” woman; that was almost universally the first adjective people used to describe her. She was not cut from the cloth of the average woman of that era who were mainly expected to fall in line, follow along, and most of all, do it quietly. Vivian was certainly not going to be quieted! I’ve always admired women with that kind of confidence and fortitude. She did not suffer fools lightly and spoke her truth at all times. She was so very *brave*.

There are so many valuable lessons and experiences our generation needs to continue to learn from her generation. Raised under the grip of Jim Crow, our elders forged a protective shield built around education, family, hard work and the pursuit of excellence. In the march of technology and more equal opportunity, we ought to remember and hold firm to the values they held.

And so it was yesterday, as we celebrated Vivian’s life in a little chapel on top of a hill, amidst plenty of tears but also a lot of laughter. Auntie Vivian, I thank you for the love you showed me and my son. I’ll miss the many long conversations we had about life and parenthood. They were such a gift to me.

In the end, all we could ever hope to have is what Vivian Waters had: a life well-lived on our own terms, with few regrets, a fierce love for family and a peaceful acceptance at death’s calling.

I will miss you, Auntie Vivian. I’ll still be working to find your connection to Luther Vandross;)

I want to first thank Bernice Bennett for having me as a guest on her Blog Talk Radio show last night, Research at the National Archives and Beyond. I spoke about one of my most popular posts, Do You Have an Artificial Brick Wall? The post can be heard in its entirety at the show’s link, along with all of her other archived shows.

During the interview, as I was reviewing the points I made in that post, I discussed the idea of thoroughness in our research–the need to be diligent in searching out original records related to our ancestors. This week I have just the example to highlight that point.

We’ve all seen those shaky leaves on Ancestry. For a long time, I never clicked on them, but last year I found some treasures hidden within the 100 or so hints I had, so now I make a point to periodically investigate those leaves. Earlier this week, I found a leaf for an ancestor named Syvoid Holt. The leaf linked to an outside website–in this case the Monroe County [Michigan] Historical Museum. Several of my ancestors, including Syvoid,  migrated from Tennessee to Michigan to work for the Ford Motor Co., and settled in Detroit and its suburbs.

The Museum website has, among other items, an obituary database. Upon request, they will email an obituary found in their database  for $1. What’s notable here is that I already knew who Syvoid’s parent’s were, his siblings, when and where he died, who he married and the names of his children. But my philosophy is to order any and all original records related to my ancestors. So off my request went. Here’s the obituary:

Syvoid Holt Obituary

Syvoid Holt Obituary

What I did not realize until I saw this is that I had never been able to locate the death certificate for his mother Vannie. I had expected to find it in Tennessee or Michigan but had no luck. This obituary revealed she had married a man surnamed Thurman and was alive as recently as 1969. When I looked at the records again, I found that Vannie actually had married another man before Thurman in 1938, a man named Dan Cathey. Dan died the very next year and sometime after that, she married a Thurman. That revelation led to finding this on Find-A-Grave:

Vannie Holt Thurman

Vannie Holt Thurman (photo by Lena Knauss)

Vannie is buried in the same cemetery as her two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson. Syvoid’s obituary contained the key to unlocking the mystery of where and when his mother Vannie had died. If I had dismissed this document because I already knew a lot of information about Syvoid, I wouldn’t have found this. Aim to be thorough in your research, and you will be rewarded time and time again. You never know what you’ll find in a document until you look at it. Shakey leaves rock!

P.S.–it goes without saying that I then ordered the death certificate for Vannie Thurman from Michigan Vital Records. At $34 a pop (ouch!) Michigan has the highest fee for records I’ve seen yet. I need more of my people to have died in Tennessee;)

In this third and final post, I’d like to share a few more items illustrating the riches that can be found in civil war pension records.

I was surprised at the number of former slaveowners (and whites in general) that supplied testimony to assist their former slaves to gain a pension. I would have thought there’d be more widespread anger at slaves who enlisted in the war. I’m not sure exactly what conclusion to draw from this; perhaps after the war was over, they decided to eventually “let bygones be bygones”.

  •  For the pension of Henry Davy, a request to find his birthdate was sent to the daughter of his former owner, who was now married and living in Atlanta, GA. In trying to confirm his age, Mrs. Smith responded that “the family bible has no record of the colored people.” However, another local white man named G.W. Bryant submitted: “I have seen several men that knowed the pensioner all the way from boyhood. One man is now ninety some odd years and one collard man that was raised with him is now 100 years old. These men will all testify that he is over 80 years old. I will ask you to further consider the old darkies case.”
  •  David G. Taylor, of Roane County, Tenn.,  testified for his former slave Frances Sevier. “I bought her at Kingston, Tenn., about 1862, can’t give the date, I bought her from Paul and McGuinn Traders. She had a former husband named Marsh Sevier, a slave on the Sevier farm just outside of Kingston…He asked me to let him have her for his wife and after talking with him on the subject I consented.” [Frances was 13 years old].
  •  Three children of the former owner of Martha Harbour testified as to her marriage and children with soldier Isaac Harbour. James G. and Elisha Harbour testified they were “sons of Elisha Harbour [her former owner] , who died in the year 1863…” They “do not know what record of birth was kept, but their sister Mrs. Gant was present at the births.” Mrs. Gant testified that she “was living at home with her father [and present] when the children were born and the dates of birth [provided] are correct.”

Finding details about family relationships among enslaved people is difficult to obtain. Civil war pensions do not disappoint in this area:

  •  Eleanor Waters testified during her pension application for husband Harrison Waters’ service. Her cousin Tom was living in her home & an accusation had been made that she had broken up Tom’s marriage and was having a love relationship with him. That claim could have derailed her application, so she tried to clarify the relationship. “My owner in slavery was Mr. James Lucas of Annapolis Pike…and my mother Maria Johnson was a sister of Tom’s mother, Emily Johnson and we are about all of the Johnson family left and we don’t like to separate.” Tom himself reiterated that both their “mothers are dead now. Eleanor and I…are from a family which is mighty nigh extinct as I have only one living brother, Nicholas Johnson and no sisters.”
  •  Martha Davy, during her deposition for her husband Henry’s service, revealed details of her family: “My maiden name was Martha Ann Doran. All my fellow slaves are dead or gone. I have no brothers or sisters living. I have a half sister Ellen Benton living here.
  • Lucinda Jones, testifying for a pension for her father Alfred Suggs stated: “[My] parents were Sallie Ann and Alfred Suggs. [They were] married before the war when no record of any kind was kept of the marriages of the colored people.” 
  •  Henny Rideout of Talbot County, MD, testified for a pension under her son John’s service. During her testimony, she provided names and birth dates of her husband, their 4 children, as well as her husband’s mother. She stated: “…these dates are taken from my bible. In 1864 my husband and I were both free. I was freed about 1850 and my husband in 1848. Our old master leaving in his will that we were to be freed at the age of 31 years.”
  •  Carpenter Eskridge, testifying on behalf of Frances Brown, stated: “The present husband[Winston Brown] of claimant is my nephew. His father was my brother, he was named Jesse Eskridge. The mother of Winston Brown was Malinda Brown.”

And finally, Carpenter Eskridge’s testimony also tells a story too good to leave out: “I was formerly a slave to Sam Eskridge who lived 4 miles below Kingston, Tenn. I was hired to James Sevier when the war broke out and continued to live on the Sevier Place…until General [Nathan Bedford] Forest came in here about Aug. or Sep. 1863 and carried me and some others off with him…we were put in the Confederate service. I cooked for a Capt. Higgins, Marsh drove a baggage wagon and Frank drove a forge wagon. We remained with the Confederates 2 or 3 months…we got a chance to run away together and did so. I got back to Kingston by Christmas in cold weather; said Marsh and I went back to the Sevier Place.” 

I hope these three posts on civil war pensions have suggested new ways to use the information they hold. Whether you find an ancestor who served or not, pulling these records for enslaved people from a specific county or community can open a door into lives of all the slaves living there. These records shed light on everything from post-civil war work, migrations, slaveowners, migrations, family relationships, births and deaths, marriages and children, military service and injuries, as well as the relationship with former owners and other whites after the war.

If you have amazing information you discovered inside a pension file, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Following a repeatable process to guide our genealogy research can make the difference between success on the one hand, and being  lost in papers and files years later with no where to go. There are so many things I wish I could whisper to my 1997 self when I first set out on this path, although there are some things I’m proud that I did the “right” way, like interviewing relatives and reading everything related to genealogy I could get my hands on.

All of our research should start with a specific research question. These questions help us to create a focused plan of attack, and help us to focus on records likely to hold the answers we need. I want to use something from my own research to illustrate how to formulate those questions.

Daniel George Waters

Daniel George Waters

This wonderful photo is my great-grandfather Daniel George Waters, born in 1875 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in Somerset County. He was a minister with the Methodist church, as was his grandfather & several uncles & great-uncles. My father has told me many stories of him, mainly of how everybody was so afraid of him because he was very stern. Looking at this photo, I believe it! Ministers moved as their assignments changed, so my grandmother grew up in towns all over the Eastern Shore of Maryland & Delaware. You can read about his Waters lineage on the “Paternal” tab above, then scroll down to Waters.

While I have amassed plenty of information on his paternal side, his mother’s side hasn’t gotten much attention from me. As a little background, Somerset County, Maryland had a large number of freed blacks before state emancipation in 1864.Daniel’s mother’s name, Mollie Curtis, was passed down via oral history. I found her in several census records with her husband Samuel Waters, and I located their date of marriage. Recently I pulled Mollie’s death certificate:

???????????????????????????????

Mollie Waters

Her parents on the certificate above are listed as George and Maria Curtis. Fortunately, George lived to be 90 and I was able to pull his death certificate as well.

George Curtis

George Curtis

This places George Curtis’ birth at ca. 1814. I was able to locate the family of George Curtis on the 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900 census records for the county. Now, while I’m pretty sure these are the right people (there are no other George Curtis’ who are black and free in that county at that time), I still have a lot of research to do. That research begins by formulating questions. Here are several questions these two records, in addition to the census records, have led me to ask:

1) Does Manokin Cemetery, Somerset County, MD, have existing headstones or burial records?
2) What is the relationship, if any, of Clinton Collins, the informant on Mollie’s death certificate?
3) Mollie is listed as a widow; does a death certificate exist for her husband Samuel Waters?
4) What is the relationship, if any, of George Hill, the informant on George Curtis’ death certificate?
5) Mollie was born ca. 1859 according to this record; was she recorded as a freed black in the freedom certificates of the county?
6) Were George and his wife Maria recorded as a freed blacks in the freedom certificates of the county?
7) How did Mollie Waters obtain her freedom?
8) How did George Curtis obtain his freedom?
9) What was the maiden name of George Curtis’ wife, Maria?
10) When did George Curtis marry his wife Maria?
11) Is there a death certificate for Maria Curtis?
12) Are the family of George and Maria Curtis found in the records of the local black church?
13) Did John Curtis (white), with whom George Curtis is living in the 1850 and 1860 census, own and later free George Curtis?

I’m sure I’ll have more over time, but notice how specific the questions are. Some will involve more work to answer, but each question builds upon the others, and allows me to gather the information I seek in a focused way. For some questions, I may be unable to find the answer. Those “negative” results should also be recorded. Using my knowledge of the available records for Maryland in general and Somerset County in particular, I can put together a list of repositories and records I need to search to find the answers. As I research these answers, I’ll include them here on the blog.

Have you created specific genealogy research questions? Tell me in the comments if you’ve been practicing this already, and if you haven’t, choose an ancestor give it a shot.

Fifteen years into my research, I am still making incredible discoveries. This was a huge year for me in my family research. In many ways, some of these are even more satisfying than earlier discoveries, because they took piecing together evidence and clues in ways I couldn’t have done earlier. At any rate, it all serves to feed my genealogy addiction and continue to confound my mom, who cannot understand why I spend so much of my time doing this stuff;)

For 2013, my top five discoveries were:

1. Finding that Martha Simpson was born free in Howard County, MD, and her mother’s name was Louisa. Doing a census search one day, I found a freed black woman named Martha Simpson who was about the age of my 2nd great-grandmother. I had spent most of my time unraveling the enslaved roots of her husband Levi Prather, and hadn’t done much on her except for assuming (mistake #1) that she was from Montgomery County, like her husband.  This opened up a whole new road of research discoveries, including the name of her mother (her father’s name was known). This was super-sweet since I currently live in Howard County.

2. Finding the last slaveowner of Mason and wife Rachel Garrett. A footnote in an online book unlocked the mysteries of my 4th great-grandparents in Tennessee. Their roots were untangled by a combination of probate and land records, and the records show a migration with their white owners from Kentucky, through Alabama and eventually Tennessee.

3. Finding my Florida great-grandmother’s maiden name, Matilda Neely, and the names of her parents, Charles and Lavinia Neely. This remains my proudest genealogical accomplishment (for now;). A marriage license from a 3rd marriage unlocked Matilda’s roots by providing her parents names. Matilda married 4 times in 2 different states & 3 different counties, but only appeared in the census with husband Number 2. Inaccurate and incomplete information on various records combined with those marriages had obscured Matilda’s true identity.

4. Finding numerous articles in the online African-American newspapers the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American newspapers. I found almost one hundred articles on various members of my family. I found marriages, deaths, obituaries, occupations, commentary, addresses, church affiliations, social activities and more. The richness of these records and what they add to my family’s story is unequaled. The one below is about my grandfather who died when I was 2.

Granddad
Granddad

5. Discovering the names of the parents of Mary Curtis, my 3rd great-grandparents George and Maria Curtis. I didn’t blog about this, but Maryland Death Certificates (up to a certain decade) are now digitized on-site at the Maryland State Archives. I went on what I call a “fishing expedition” where I decided to pull African-American  death certificates with the surname “Waters” who lived in Somerset County. There are many different Waters families, and I was trying to sort out some of the families.  I came across the certificate for Mollie Waters, and later realized it was my ancestor. What I realized is that when I first started researching, I probably searched for “Mary Waters” and found nothing. I didn’t know then to search for nicknames, so this was a terrific find.

I hope these discoveries are encouraging to everyone. Keep reading the “how-to” articles, keep taking classes, online & otherwise, keep attending conferences, and keep reading genealogy journals about how others solved their genealogical puzzles. It all contributes to honing your skills, and the next big discovery is always right around the corner!

I hope everyone is returning from a wonderful holiday season and excited about a bright New Year.

In Part 1 of this post, we began looking at examples of the riches that can be found in civil war pension records. We’ll continue in this post looking at how the lives of enslaved people are illuminated, both before, during and after the war. The name of the ever-important slave-owner is often mentioned. The role of the “slave neighborhood” is illustrated, as slaves often married slaves living nearby and had neighboring slaves testify on their behalf.

Slave “marriages” were not legally recognized but were often encouraged by masters. Names of colored preachers and church affiliations when given in pensions can provide us with new research avenues. Previous marriages and children hint at the instability caused by slavery.

  • Rachel Orr testified in 1899 that she and Edward Orr were “…married long years before the war by Ephraim Brighton, a colored preacher, in my master William Orr’s house in Danville, Alabama.”
  • George Simpson’s widow Annie testified that she “was a slave of the Rev. Anspach who lived at West River, Anne Arundel County, MD. [Her husband] George was a slave of John Gale on an adjoining plantation and [they were] married by the Rev. in her cabin on his plantation, him reading the service from a book.”
  • Martha Harbour was married to Isac Harbour “…in the month of March 1848 by Matthew Broyles, a colored Methodist preacher, at the plantation of his late master Elisha Harbour in slave form by his consent.”
  •  Caroline Allen, of Memphis, testified that Betty and Jacob Bradley were married “…in my room in this city. Brother Martin, our pastor in charge of Collins Chapel performed the ceremony.” Betty herself added that she “had a husband in slave time in South Carolina. I belonged to Mr. Lewis M. Ayre near Sumpterville, SC and Elias Phoenix, a neighbor’s servant was my husband according to slave custom. We had been married only about a year when I was sold to a “nigger trader” and brought to West Tennessee and bought by Mr. Thomas Kilpatrick (now dead) of Tipton County, TN.  I was then given by him to his daughter Mrs. Cornelia Nelson and went to live with her in Bartlett Station.”

We can get valuable dates of death from the pension files, sometimes before deaths were recorded by the state. Often there are receipts or letters indicating the death of the pension applicant as well, usually the wife or child of the soldier. Applicants submitted these papers in the hopes of getting reimbursed for the costs. Deaths after the war sometimes show the dangerous nature of the jobs freedmen had available to them.

  •  Eliza King testified that her father Edward Hays “…died in July 1879, the year following the yellow fever epidemic.”
  •  Eleanor Waters, of Baltimore, testified that her husband William Harrison Waters died “…on or about the 4th day of April 1882 while working on a steam mill at the corner of Pratt & Fremont, the boiler of which exploded killing him instantly.”
  •  In Caroline Allen’s deposition of Jacob Bradley’s death she says, “I know he died because I sat up with the corpse and went with it to the graveyard and saw his body put in the ground. I think he had consumption, because he had an awful bad cough.” Caroline gave the date more specifically as “occurring “during the yellow fever epidemic about 1878.”
  • W.C. Woods, the white clerk of the county court, testified that soldier Isaac Bailey “…lived near [me] on a small tract of land he purchased [from me]. [I] furnished Isaac means during his last illness. The servants on my place all quit work to attend the burial of Isaac.”

As we can see from above, the files contain not just the dates and names we crave, but also tell us significant details about the slave community. Many files include copies of death certificates, marriage licenses and even pages from bibles. The death certificate below for Harry Brown of Kentucky, under the section for age says, ” an old slave no one knows exact age:”

Harry Brown death

Harry Brown death

I’ll do one more post on this topic in the future, showing a few more ways that pension records are the crown jewel of genealogy records.

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