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Archive for the ‘Evaluating Evidence’ Category

Unk13The World War I draft registration is one of the earliest records I remember writing to the Atlanta National Archives to order. Their easy access on Ancestry.com today, along with part of the draft registration for World War II, remain some of the best resources for our research. They are especially helpful for the men born in the late 1870s or 1880s, as the lack of a 1890 census record makes that 20-year-gap hard to cross.

It’s important to read all of the data that Ancestry.com offers on each of its databases. That gives us the necessary information we will need to evaluate the evidence and we miss clues when we don’t know as much as we can about Ancestry’s source for each record. The records they have may be incomplete, or missing certain states or years. Both draft databases have important information we need to understand. For example, the World War I draft cards are pulled from three separate sets of registration, and each card was slightly different. There are blank examples of each card on Ancestry. This was the first registration card which asked 12 questions:

Blank First Draft

Blank First Draft

Be aware of the cards you have for your family and which registration it came from. Two big differences in the 3 sets of registration cards is that the 1st set does not request names of dependents, while the other two ask the names of the nearest relative, and the 3rd set does not ask for the place of birth while the others do. Also notice that for all African-American applicants, the left corner of the 1st draft card above was to be torn. Oh, the ugly vestiges of segregation.

I have also noticed as I have been analyzing many of these draft cards that there are quite a few men with discrepancies in their birthdates. Now, these cards are original records with primary information–the person filling out the card is getting the information from the applicant sitting in front of him. While most of the discrepancies are a year or two, some are  four or five years, and I’ve seen an 8-year difference. Two examples are shown below (both WWI and II cards are combined in the pictures):

Clagett

Mathews, 4 year difference

Mathews, 4 year difference

And while we might expect the birthdates to make the person too young or too old to be drafted, the cards don’t always show that to be the case. Some of the discrepancies are probably just memory and others may be just that having to know one’s exact birthdate was really a new phenomena predicated by the new Social Security program.

Now, you need to know that for the World War II draft, only one set of the four draft cards are publicly available. And, unfortunately cards for the states below were destroyed before being microfilmed:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

But, if you are lucky enough to have ancestors in the other states, they are a rich source. They specifically ask for middle names, which is helpful when people use both their first and middle names on various documents. Hamilton Riggs, shown on the 1900 census below, was revealed to be “William Hamilton Riggs” on his draft card:

1900 Hamilton Riggs

1900 Hamilton Riggs

Hamilton

Finally, I’m always interested in social history and since these cards capture migrations, I like to plug my research county in the “born” search box, and find out where people migrated and what kind of jobs they got. Here is an image from an article I wrote mapping migrations from Hardin County, Tennessee in the World War II draft cards:

Migrations

Migrations

I hope this post has given you new ways to use this resource, and as always, remember to correlate these with all of the other evidence you’ve gathered to verify accuracy.

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When I first discovered that my enslaved ancestor’s name was Rezin Prather, I thought, “What an odd name. I’ll easily be able to find him.” Guess what? Turns out it was a very popular name in Montgomery County, Maryland, for everybody. There were several African-American “Rezin Prathers” floating around the county and in Washington, D.C. This situation makes genealogical mistakes easier to make, since people are prone to connect ancestors when they share the same name and live in the same place. It was important for me to finally “sort out all the Rezins” in order to ensure that I was connecting identities properly.

I began with various census records, vital records, deed records and military records as evidence for the different men, and oh of course their names, first and last, were spelled in a million different ways. I will spell them all here as “Rezin,” for simplicity. I had documents I collected online, but I had done most off this research offline.

My ancestor Rezin Prather was born in about 1800-1803 and was found presumably living with his son Levi in 1870. He is most certainly the same Rezin Prather who “departed this life” on Jan. 8, 1872 as lovingly stated in the family bible. He is the only Rezin found with that birth date.

I believe that this “elder” Rezin Prather likely had at least three sons: Levi, Wesley and Tobias Prather, who all lived in the same community, and diligently passed their names down to their children. Looking at the assortment of records, I compiled a list of birthdate ranges. They describe at least 6 different men:

b. 1800-1803 (the elder)
b. 1840-1845
b. mid 1860s
b. 1866-68
b. 1876
b. 1881-1882

I found five marriage records in the area for men named Rezin Prather:

In Montgomery County:
Rezin Prather married Albina Riggs, 4 March 1867
Rezin Prather married Elizabeth Brown, 10 June 1886
Rezin Prather married Annie Simpson, 13 August 1889

In Washington, DC:
Rezin Prather married Rosetta Bowie, 18 April 1900
Rezin Prather married Ella M. Butcher, 26 May 1902
Rezin Prather married Annie D. Stewart, 19 April 1911

Here’s a summary of my analysis:

1) My great-grandmother’s brother Rezin Joseph was born ca. March 1881-1882. He never married nor had any children.  He must be the 19-year old “outlier” shown below in the 1900 census living in the Brown household and he can be tracked until his death in
1960:

Rezin Joseph

Rezin Joseph

2) From oral history, I knew that Wesley Prather’s son Rezin was the same 25-year old Resin Jr. already married to Albina Riggs and raising two children in 1880, living just one page over from his father. The two men can further be connected by their occupation as carpenters. This Rezin was born around 1845. He had the middle initial “R.”:

1880, Rezin "R"

1880, Rezin “R”

3) A 1900 census for an “R.R. Praither” in Camden, New Jersey sparked suspicion. He was born Nov. 1844 in Maryland, and was living with wife “Mary. E.” and three children. He was a minister. When he died in 1903, his body was shipped back to Maryland, and the death certificate verified his father’s name as “Wesley Praither.” That means he is the same man who had first married Albina. This Rezin secondly married Elizabeth Brown in 1886 in Washington, D.C. What about the wife called “Mary E.” in 1900? His wife’s name (as confirmed by city directories) was Mary Elizabeth Brown.

1900, Rezin "R"

1900, Rezin “R”

4) A World War I draft card identified a “Rezin Singleton Prather” born 1876. His name was garbled and transcribed incorrectly, but I found him living in Washington, D.C. I finally noticed that one of Rezin R. and Albina’s sons was called “Singleton” in the 1880 census (see above), born 1876. Thus, Rezin R. Praither, the preacher from Maryland who died in New Jersey, had a son he named Rezin Singleton who lived his life here in Washington D.C. That son married Ellen Butcher in DC (called Elnora below). He is further traced by his occupation as a waiter.

Rezin Singleton

Rezin Singleton

5) The last connection is where it gets tricky. The Rezin Prather who married Annie Simpson in 1889 is never found on any census. Annie was probably dead by 1900, when her two children –Ethel and Wilson –were living with their grandparents. Annie was also referred to in her father’s will as “Annie Simpson Prather.” What’s unclear is whether or not Rezin Prather survived his wife.

The Rezin who married Rosetta Bowie in 1889 was found in D.C. in 1900. His occupation was “sexton.” Rosetta Prather died on 28 May 1908.  Analysis revealed that the Rezin who married Annie and the Rezin who married Rosetta—both born 1860s– must be two different men. The first was already married to Rosetta at the time the second married Annie; Rosetta did not die until 1908.

1900, Rezin and Rosetta

1900, Rezin and Rosetta

A 1910 census intensified the mystery. A widowed 42 year old Rezin Prather was living in D.C, in a household with his sister “Hester Prather.” Ethel and Wilson Prather, who had been living with their grandparents, are in his household and called “lodgers.”

1910, widowed Rezin in DC

1910, widowed Rezin in DC

The only person who had a daughter named Hester who could have had a son born in mid 1860s is Tobias Prather. And I believe he is probably the same Rezin who had been first married to Rosetta. Had he been the one married to Annie, Ethel and Wilson should have been labeled as his children, not lodgers. Another clue was his occupation as a “janitor” in a church. That’s awful close to what a sexton does, which was the occupation of the man who was married to Rosetta. This man was still in DC in 1922, according to city directories, working as a janitor.

This “other” Rezin Prather, born in the mid 1860s–the one who first married Annie Simpson–went on to marry Annie D. Stewart in 1911. He was found on the 1920 and 1930 census records living as a farmer in Montgomery County. I do not know who this man’s father was, but I hope to find his death certificate, since he lived well into the mid-20th century. I think he was the 14-year-old “outlier” in 1880:

1880, Rezin age 14

1880, Rezin age 14

Is your head spinning yet? I hope that you too will consider trying to track identities if you have several people living in the same area with the same name. Here are some of the important takeaways I discovered from this exercise:

*Watch out for “outlier” children and teens, especially in 1880 and 1900. Black people are frequently living in other households as servants or lodgers and not in their parent’s households. It can easily cause you to miss children who should be in a family unit.

*Be aware of middle names and initials. I often find people using their middle name in one document and their first name in another.
I have posted before about the need to be on the lookout for multiple marriages. They can impede our ability to discern between one person and two.

*Use occupations, addresses, city directories and deed records to help properly merge identities. Sometimes city directories add spouses in parenthesis, which is extremely helpful.

My chart after analysis looks like this:
b. Born 1800-1803: “elder” Rezin Prather, d. 1872
b. Born 1840-1845: Rezin R., mrd Albina and Elizabeth, died in NJ, minister
b. Born early 1860’s: This Rezin married Rosetta only, worked as janitor in DC. Do not know who his parents were.
b. Born 1866-68: This Rezin mrd Annie Simpson and then Annie Stewart, his father was Tobias
b. Born 1876: Rezin Singleton, son of Rezin R., waitor, mrd Ellen
b. Born 1881-1882: Rezin Joseph, never married, his father was Levi

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Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post about slavery and slaveowners. If anything, it kicked off some great discussions and dialogue about the country’s worst and most contentious period of history. I’ll leave that topic with one quote from one of our greatest slavery historians, Ira Berlin:

No understanding of slavery can avoid these themes: violence, power, and the usurpation of labor for the purpose of aggrandizing a small minority . . . The murders, beatings, mutilations, and humiliations, both petty and great, were an essential, not incidental, part of the system. [emphasis is mine]

directions

Terminology

Today I want to talk about something that I constantly stress to researchers. I say it a lot: you’ve got to learn methodology. But what do I mean when I say that? What is methodology and how does it relate to genealogy? When I say it, I mean take the time to learn “how to use the records.” In genealogy, we use many different types of records, but there are are many ways to use each kind of record. And there are a set of best practices that optimize  your use of the records.

Let’s take a few simple examples. You may find your ancestor on a census, and gather relationships, marital status, occupation, ages, etc. That’s one way to “use” the census. But another way—another method—is to use it to recreate your family’s “FAN club”–their Family, Associates and Neighbors. This is the principle that cluster research utilizes. People usually married people who lived nearby, so if you refocus your efforts on the community at large, you stand a better chance of identifying spouses and parents of individuals. You can take also the census, which identifies landowners, and pull deed records for those landowners in order to plot the land on a modern map. This is again taking the information from the census a step further. You can look at migration patterns in the census—what states are people coming from? What states were the children in the family born in and what states does it say their parents were born in?

For probate records, you may look for a will and if none exists for an individual, you may think your work there is done. But what about looking for records of people who died intestate, without a will? What about looking for probate records of extended family members, neighbors and in-laws? What about looking at probate guardianship records to discover people’s ages? What about using estate distributions to discover the relationships of people where none is given?

Like the old adage says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and some of my best discoveries have been made by using traditional records in multiple ways. I have used deed records to find out a married woman’s full name, and I have used them to find out when a man took a new wife when marriage records did not. I have used vital records to research cemeteries and I have used census records to show that a woman’s name on her marriage record was incorrect.

As mentioned above, I also use “methodology” to mean that you know and use genealogy best practices. That you know the importance of and use source citations and that you know the difference between an original and derivative source and the importance of examining all relevant evidence. That you know how to analyze evidence. That you understand that most genealogy research still takes place in person at archives, libraries and courthouses. Do you know how to pull every piece of evidence from every source? Do you use all those other columns on the census that can help you? Can you extract all the information possible from a probate or deed record? Do you check the instructions given to the enumerators so that you are clearly interpreting each census year? Do you have an artificial brick wall?

These are just a few examples, but I hope they hint at how important methodology will become to your research once you get past what I call the “low-hanging fruit” of easy discoveries. That’s usually the first year or two.

Learning genealogy methodology takes a conscious effort by reading genealogy how-to books and blogs, taking classes, on or offline, attending learning conferences and reading case studies of how others solve problems.  All of these expand your skills, give you new ideas on how to attack those real brick walls and enable you to notice bits and pieces of evidence that you may have previously overlooked. EVERYONE involved in serious research needs to have books like The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood, Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy by Loretto Dennis Szucs in their personal libraries. These types of books (and others) will teach you good methodology. Some are huge books, but you can get used ones for great prices. *Absolutely everyone* should have the newest book out on Genealogy Standards. It’s easy to read and simplified and designed for everyone, not just professional genealogists.

I have a somewhat new philosophy that finding genealogical information for others does not really help them. It’s nice, and in some instances I will do it out of my own curiosity. The problem is, it doesn’t teach others how to research themselvesit doesn’t help them to develop their own skills. They often just return when they’re stuck again and ask someone to help them solve the next problem. Now, I try to give clues—to give hints—to encourage people to find the answer themselves. So instead of pulling a census record someone else couldn’t find, I might say, Have you tried alternate spellings? Have you searched the neighboring counties? Have you searched for just the names of the children?

I believe there is a much sweeter satisfaction to this research when you make discoveries independently. It also helps to belong to a group of others who are researching their families–it will keep you inspired.

Another word that comes up pretty often and is related to methodology is “strategy.” What is your approach to a particular problem? Do you have a research plan? Most of us can easily get lost in researching records, especially online, and then a few weeks later, we can’t remember what we already looked for. Write down a plan of attack–it doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, there are several well-known strategies for finding the last slaveowner  (LS) of a former slave. One is to search for any slaveowners nearby with the same surname. But we know that some slaves did and some did not carry the surname of the last LS. So, another strategy is to find landowning slaveowners living nearby of any surname. Yet another strategy is to research whites who had associations with the family in freedom, like those who sold the family land. And so on.

When I suggest to someone stop and they read a certain book or two if they are just starting, it sometimes takes all the excitement out of the research process. But taking the time to learn these things will save you time–years–that some of us only wish we could get back. It will make your research more efficient; you won’t spend time spinning your wheels in a direction that is unlikely to pay off. I wish these books had been available when I first started researching. I didn’t know a hoot about source citations, and I didn’t know didley about how to conduct an oral interview. I can’t get those people or that time back. I remember distinctly pulling pension records for men who ended up being white simply because I didn’t know that only those listed in the index cards as serving in the Colored Troops were likely to be African-American men. Oh the stories I could tell.

So, here’s a link to my list of recommended books. I’ve also posted a list of my favorite slavery-related journal articles. Start building your library.

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Getting better at genealogical research involves many things. One important skillset is understanding and learning how to find relationships when no document states the relationship. The early years of genealogy are filled with the “low hanging fruit” of census records, marriage and death records, online documents, etc. When that fruit runs out—which I assure you it will—are you equipped to keep uncovering relationships in your family? That skill involves learning new methodologies and ways of approaching your research, as well as finding little clues and piecing them together through analysis. Elizabeth Shown Mills calls it “harvesting clues.” Here’s a good, short example from my own research.

My 2nd great grandmother Martha Simpson was born a freed woman in Anne Arundel (later Howard) County, MD. I found her and her siblings living with their mother in 1850. She married Levi Prather in Montgomery County, MD, birthed 12 children that survived to adulthood and lived there the rest of her life.  I had a few pages from a family bible that recorded both Martha’s siblings names and some of her own children:

Prather_BibleB

Bible Page B

Bible Page B

When Martha’s husband Levi died in 1894, Martha purchased 75 acres of land in 1897 from a man named Nicholas Moccabee and his wife. Martha lived in the same house with Nicholas and his wife in 1880, and lived next door to a widowed Nicholas in 1900, probably because she’d purchased some of their land.

1880martha_clip

1900martha_clip

These kind of connections should always arouse suspicion and curiosity in the diligent genealogist. Who is this couple–Nicholas and Harriet? Nicholas was also buried in the same cemetery as my ancestor Martha. So I decided to delve into Nicholas’ life more deeply. An obvious impediment was his name, “Moccabee” which was spelled umpteen different ways. But take a look at what I found in land records–(these are the year and the grantor/grantee):

1876, Willie R. Griffith to Nicholas “Macbee” and wife Leanna
1896, Nicolas “Mackabee” to Harriet L. Mackabee
1897, Nicholas “Mackabee” and wife Harriet L. to Martha J. Prather
1897, Harriet Leannah Mackabee and husband Nicholas to Sandy Spring Bank

His wife’s full name—her first and middle name—is only ever given in the last 1897 deed record above. His wife’s name was “Harriet Leannah.” With this critical clue, I unlocked the puzzle. I remembered Martha named one of her daughter’s “Harriet (Ann) Leanna.” If you go back to the bible records above, you’ll also see the name of “Leanna McAbee” on both pages. All of this provides evidence for one conclusion: Nicholas married Martha’s sister, Harriet Leanna Simpson. Later, I found an obituary for Nicholas Moccabee that provided the full (misspelled) name of his wife-“Harriett Lena Simpson”:

Obituary

Obituary

Notice that no record told me directly that Harriet Leanna, Nicholas’ wife,  was Martha’s sister. But I could draw that reasonable conclusion from the compilation and analysis of the relevant evidence. Later when I went back to the cemetery, I also found “H. Leannah McAbee’s” headstone right next to her husband Nicholas, and in the same group of Simpson family headstones.

Learn how to do this by reading genealogical case studies and learning how to extract clues from various records. I also recommend Thomas Jones’ book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.

A few months ago, I joyfully discovered a descendant of Harriet Leannah who still lived in Maryland. He and his family surprised me by accepting my invitation an attending our family reunion which was a few weeks ago. I thought I would cry right there! Since then, I have gotten to spend time with their wonderful family and share all the things I have discovered. They shared priceless historical photographs, and the one I was most happy to see was the photograph below of Harriet Leannah. The two sisters have finally been reunited!

Another ancestor–reclaimed! Readers, in the comments, I’d love to hear stories of how you pieced together a relationship through clues you found in the documents, when no document stated the relationship.

Harriet Leanna

Harriet Leanna

Martha

Martha

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We all have those lines that seem to withstand all of our greatest efforts to uncover, and one of those lines for me has been my maternal ggrandfather Walter Springer’s line. I know the names of his parents–Lou and George Springer–but have only ever found Lou Springer, widowed, on the 1900 census. That is an *awful* census to be the only clue one has. In 1880 and 1910, Lou disappeared into the ether. Born in Alabama, she and George could still be there in 1880–who knows. I never found George Springer on any census record.

The one meaningful lead my grandmother provided in interviews before her death was her memory of her father’s half-sister Mary Neal.  She remembered her coming to visit, and especially that she looked “mixed,” with long, fine hair. Mary Neal indeed was the informant on her half-brother Walter’s death certificate in 1944, with an address in Lawrenceburg, TN. For 15 years now, I had been unable to find her with any certainty. I did find a death certificate for a “Mary Neal” years ago, with “Springer” parents, but I knew I didn’t have enough data to be sure it was her.

With the 1940 census release, I finally found a Mary Neal in Lawrence County, with husband Felix Neal. A search for a marriage between a “Mary Springer” and Felix Neal came up short. Felix married a “Mary Lyles” in 1934:

Neal Marriage

Neal Marriage

I’ve posted before on the need to be mindful of women’s multiple marriages, so I searched for a “Mary Springer” who married a “Lyles.” No such marriage was found. Now I was stuck. Of course, I searched multiple counties and name spellings. However, after spending long hours analyzing the evidence I had gathered–which consisted of mainly vital records and census records–I came to a valid conclusion: Even though the record above says “Mary Lyles” that record was mistaken. Her correct name was Mary Lowery. This illustrates that even original sources like marriage records are prone to error. People wrote down what they heard. In a county with several “Lyles” families, it is reasonable that the clerk may have thought that was her name.

This is how I uncovered the error: I found a marriage record between “Mary Springer” and Thomas Lowry in Hardin County, a few counties over:

Lowry Marriage

Lowry Marriage

Mary was found with her husband Thomas in the next 3 census records, in Hardin and Wayne Counties, TN:

1900 Hardin Cty

1900 Hardin Cty

1910-Hardin Cty.

1910-Hardin Cty.

 

1920-Wayne Cty.

1920-Wayne Cty.

The couple is living in Lawrence County when Thomas died:

 

Tom Lowry Death

Tom Lowry Death

In 1930, the newly widowed Mary “Lowry” is shown in the 1930 Lawrence County census, notably living amidst several African-American Springers (Caldonia, wife of Bill Blair was also a Springer):

1930 Mary Lowery

1930 Mary Lowery

It is at this point that Mary Lowery met and married Felix Neal–not “Mary Lyles.” Turns out the Mary Neal death certificate I found so many years ago was indeed the correct Mary Neal. Her parents are revealed as Frazier and Lou Springer:

Mary Neal Death Cert

Mary Neal Death Cert

At all times, but especially when researching people who lived in different places over time, we have to be careful that we are proving a person’s identity and not just matching names. This Mary can be tied together through the records above in several ways. Her 1920 census entry in Wayne County reveals one daughter Pauline, who is the informant on her mother’s death certificate above. That death certificate identifies her as the same Mary who married Felix Neal. Mary was first married in Hardin County, hardly surprising since it is the same county where her half-brother (my ancestor) married and lived. Mary Lowery’s 1910 Hardin County household reveals a Springer “sister-in-law”. All of these people were also buried at West Point Cemetery.

All of this hasn’t led me yet to Lou Springer’s pre-1900 origins, but to even have some success in a line long out of success stories is very meaningful to me. It’s also another lesson in the power of learning to analyze and make sense out of all the records we uncover, which can be loaded with half-truths, secrets, mistakes and out and out lies;)

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This week’s lesson comes from the Freedman’s Bank Records that I have been recently exploring.

I once heard a lecturer say that up to 60% of the time, people are researching the wrong woman as mother of the children. This example shows the need to prove the father’s relationship to a child separately from the mother’s relationship to the child. What does that mean? Here’s the Freedman’s Bank card for “London Mathies”:

London Bankcard

London Bankcard

London’s bank card dated 8 October 1867 provides the surprise notation that his wife “Martha died in Memphis on Vance St. July 2/67.” Of course, most cards don’t typically include dates of death, so this is a lucky find. Under the section for children it says “Willy Franklin 1 yr 2 mos” which could be interpreted as one or two children until we compare it with his 1870 census household as London “Matthews”:

Matthews

Matthews

In this document, his wife’s name is Amanda. With one year old son “Jackson” in the household, we can probably safely conclude that London has remarried and had another son. What these records *together* show is that Amanda is not the mother of the first son “William” or as the bank card calls him, “Willy Franklin.” William’s mother was probably Martha. If we viewed this census record in isolation, we might incorrectly assume this was a man and a wife and their two children. Of course we’ll try to find London’s marriage records to confirm our hypothesis. We could also try to find church or burial records that may confirm the death of his wife and perhaps births or baptisms of the children.

We can’t assume that the wife in any household is the mother of all of the children in the household. We have to prove that relationship separately.

Here’s another one (1910):

 

Campbell

Campbell

If you know how to properly pull every clue from census records, you’ll notice that the little “M2” means that John Campbell has been married more than once, while this is his wife Harriet’s first marriage (“M1″). You’ll also see that Harriet has birthed 2 children, and 2 are living. This implies that the last two children are not Harriet’s children (Thanks for the correction, Rolanda!)

Same thing with this third example (1910):

Burrow

Burrow

Samuel’s marriage to Carrie has not produced any children yet; it’s her first marriage and his 2nd (or more) marriage. The two children in the household are probably his from a previous marriage.

Notice that if it’s the husband’s subsequent marriage, the children will not be noted as “step” children because the census records only state the relationship to the head of the household. If it’s the husband’s first marriage and the wife’s subsequent marriage, and she brings children, the children should be properly noted as “step” children, as they are here:

Perry Davis

Perry Davis

Here’s the rub: only the 1910 census requires an “M1” or an “M2” designator for number of marriages. And, the “M2” designator means “married more than once.” It could be a 2nd marriage or a 4th marriage, and it should still say “M2”.

Additionally:

–the 1900 census provides the number of years married and the number of children born and living for the women. It does not provide the number of marriages as shown in this example.

–the 1930 census provides age at first marriage. Doesn’t necessarily mean the person was married at that time to the current spouse.

–the 1900-1940 censuses all require a “D” to be written for divorced; if you see that, be sure to find the divorce record.

As you can see, all of these differences in what information each census provides is critical to understanding and interpreting the document correctly. Incorrectly interpreting the census can lead you astray in your research for years.

It goes without saying that information in census records have high degrees of error rates and should be approached with caution. The censustaker may not have recorded the information correctly or the family member may not have accurately reported their marital status. I have several examples of women marked “widowed” whose husbands were in fact not dead.

It goes without saying that information in the census records should be correlated with other records that illuminate a family.

It goes without saying that people can and did have children before and outside of marriages.

So how can you prove the relationship to the wife as mother of the children? Here are a few ways:

  • Sometimes simple age deductions can rule out the current wife as mother of the children. (ie, most women aren’t birthing children at age 13).
  • If the husband dies first, and the widowed wife now heads the census household, the stated relationship of any children in the household will be to her.
  • Marriage and death certificates of the children can name parents.
  • Estate or probate records after the father’s death may illuminate children and wives.
  • Bible records, church records, military pensions, obituaries and land records are examples of other types of records that may be used to prove a woman’s relationship to household children.

So go back and pull out some of your census records. Ask yourself, for each family unit: Is the Wife Really the Mother of all of the Children? The answer may surprise you.

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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.

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