31 May 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Finding All Our Grandmothers - Family Bibles

Family bibles often include marriages, including the woman’s maiden name. If you don’t have a family bible for the ancestress being researched, search for the bible.
  • Check with all known relatives to see if anyone in the family has such a bible. 
  • Check transcription projects for family bibles – local groups may have a project. Ask all local genealogical and historical societies, etc.
  • Look in the DAR's collection of transcribed Bible records. These transcribed Bible records are available at the DAR library in Washington, D.C., local DAR chapters, and on microfilm through the Family History Centers of the LDS.
  • The National Genealogical Society also has a bible transcription program that members can search online.
  • Check with any and all local libraries or archives. 

This page came from a bible found in a collection of private papers that had been donated to the Florida State Archives.

24 May 2011

Tuesday's Tip - Finding All of Our Grandmothers, Pt 4

Children's Records

If you can't find your female ancestor's name among her own records, look up records on each of your ancestor’s children, whether or not they are in your line.  Birth and baptism records, marriage records and death records all may give a maiden name – and you only need one. Also note others named, especially witnesses, as they may be her relatives
Example: I wanted to find the surname of Ann Eliza, wife of James J. Gay. Ann Eliza had been born in about 1829 in the Territory of Florida. She had married James J. Gay in about 1846, in Jackson County, Florida. A courthouse fire had destroyed all marriage records prior to 1848, along with the bulk of other court-related records.

In 1879, Thomas M. White died in Jackson County, and his  Will named Ann Eliza Gay, wife of J. J. Gay, as White's half-sister. This meant that if Thomas M. White and Ann Eliza shared the same father, Ann Eliza's surname was White. On the other hand, if they shared the same mother, it was back to square one. Since the destruction of nearly all court records seriously hampered the search for Ann Eliza's parents, I decided to investigate her family.

I found that one of her daughters, Sarah (Sallie) Rebecca Gay, had married James M. Barnes in Jackson County, Florida in 1872, and had also died in that county on 14 October 1932. A search of the Florida Death Index revealed this record:

When received, the official death certificate confirmed this information, with one small spelling change - Ann Eliza Gay's surname was Davidson. This was later corroborated by handwritten notes in Thomas M. White's Family Papers Collection which had been donated to the Florida State Archives. The notes were labeled as "genealogy notes" and were from interviews with cousins of Thomas M. White who knew him when he was alive. One of the notes read "When old Mr. Tom M. White's father died, his mother remarried to Mr. Davidson, and they had one daughter, Annie Eliza, who he named in his will."

When I looked back at the census records, I found a Lemuel Davidson living close by the family of James J. Gay, and not far from the White family ...but that is a story for another time.

Happy Hunting! 

16 May 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Finding All Our Grandmothers, Part 3

Because of their complexity and the rarity with which they have been digitized, land records compete only with court records for the title of most underutilized resource in genealogy.  In their favor, land records are nearly always indexed - the need to track and prove ownership of land is one of the oldest reasons for record-keeping - though I suspect that taxation is an even older motive. And while very few of them have been digitized, most surviving land records have been microfilmed.

Yeah, I know - and part of me fully agrees - that peering into a reader as microfilm scrolls across the screen is just oh so yesterday.  But prospectors have always had to wash their way through a whole lot of dirt to find their nuggets.  And if you are one of the lucky ones, you really could get the opportunity to change Mary Ann LNU into Mary Ann Maiden-Name. 

Consider this example from Alachua County, Florida Deed Book A:45 (I have a lovely image, but it turned out to be unreadable at any size that would fit here):

"This indenture made this 16th day of June, eighteen hundred and forty nine, between James H. Smith of the county and state aforesaid, of the fist part and William Dell of the County of Alachua aforesaid, of the other part. Witnesseth, that whereas a marriage has here-to-fore been had and solemnized between Mary, formerly Mary Thomas, now Mary Smith and the party of the first part, James H. Smith and the said Mary hath begotten the following named children, viz:  William F., Bryan, Fanny, James, Hampton, Milton, Florida, America, and Curling Smith...."

I will admit that this was a bit of an odd indenture - Mr. Smith appears to have been going on a long journey. This indenture was putting his major assets into the hands of Mr. Dell in a kind of trust arrangement whereby the wife and children would be sufficiently kept by the income from the assets and Dell would get the profits beyond that. 

The results, though, are not so unique. I have on several occasions found all of a man's heirs listed in a deed when the man died intestate and the land portion of his estate was being placed for sale.

Yep, until FamilySearch gets all of its county records online, it will usually require using older technology - and it may sometimes be a little tedious. But for me, the "Eureka!" moments are worth it. 
Good Hunting!

14 May 2011

Treasure Chest Thursday - The Hand-Carved Cane

I have seen some pretty fancy canes. Years ago, I had an Army buddy who collected walking sticks - everything from fancy canes with silver heads and ivory inlays to a staff that he insisted came from a Tibetan Lama. But my hand-carved cane is of another sort altogether. Mine is a limb cut from a grapefruit tree in my grandfather's back yard, with a handle carved and smoothed and with a rubber tip added to keep it from slipping. That's it below - if you look closely, you can see that nearly 60 years later it still has the bark on it.

 My cane was a practical, if poor, man's solution to a need. Big Grandaddy made the cane so that Little Granddaddy could safely get around the house without falling. You see, like most folks, I had two granddaddys when I was a boy, but, unlike most folks, both of mine were on my mother's side of the family. My father's parents had both died before I was born, but on Mama's side, I was luckier - I had Little Granddaddy and Big Granddaddy.

Little Granddaddy stood about 5'6" tall and had not a spare ounce on his small frame. His name was Thomas Harmon Helms and he was born 30 October 1868, in Blue Springs, Barbour County, Alabama, and he was the father of Big Granddaddy, my grandfather. Big Grandaddy was Alto Lee Helms, and he stood nearly 6'5" tall - he clearly inherited his genes from his mother's Gunter family - she was nearly 6' tall, herself.

Little Granddaddy was the son of a Confederate Civil War veteran turned farmer and the grandson of a Primitive Baptist preacher. As a boy, he attended his grandfather's church and apparently the experience took, because Little Grandaddy spent his entire adult life as a Primitive Baptist preacher. He firmly believed that preaching was a calling and not a job. He preached on Sunday and sometimes on Wednesday nights, ministered to his congregation as needed, and worked hard all week earning his living as best he could.

Big Granddaddy and his father, Little Granddaddy
Of course, I didn't know any of that back then; to me he was just Little Granddaddy. It wasn't until the last year of his life that I even figured out that the reason that Mama called him Granddaddy was because he was her granddaddy.

What I remember him for are the days when Big Granddaddy would set the little table and a chair under the Chinaberry tree and Granny would bring out a glass and a big pitcher of iced tea and set them on the table. Little Granddaddy would sit in the chair drinking tea and watching me and my cousins play in the yard, occasionally admonishing us to stay out of the road - and every now and then sharing his tea with us. As we grew,  he began to teach us. He showed us where the yellow-jacket nest was in the field next to the house and warned us to avoid it. And he taught us how to select the ripest guavas and tangerines off of the trees in Granny's back yard.

One my strongest memories involves the old cane and the one time in my life that Little Granddaddy ever yelled at me. It was a day when none of the cousins were there, just my sister and me - I was maybe 7 or so at the time. We were playing in the yard when sister violated the kid code in some way that earned her - in my totally unbiased opinion - physical retribution.  She knew it, of course, even as she did it - so the chase was on. Off around the side of the house and up the front porch stairs.  I was gaining, no more than 3 stair steps behind her, with arm raised to deliver the smack that she so richly deserved...for whatever it was that she did. She cleared the steps and darted for the front door and I knew that I would catch her when she stopped to open the door.

And at that moment, just as I cleared the steps, Little Granddaddy stepped between us from the side of the porch where he had been standing unseen.  Looking down at me  with those angry eyes and shaking that old cane above his head he bellowed at me "Boy, you don't ever hit a girl!"  Standing there with that raised cane, with his felt hat shoved back on his head and his white shirt almost glowiing in the bright morning sun, he rattled me so much that it might as well have been the voice of god rolling over me. I never forgot that moment. 

Little Granddaddy lived until I was nine years old and to this day I have fond memories of him.  Years later, when all of the cousins were grown, I told the story of the day that he yelled at me during a family reunion. Big Granddaddy apparently heard and remembered. When he died a few years later, the old cane came to me - 32 years later, I still have it. 

And every now and then, I still tell my own grown sons Little Granddaddy stories because I want to help them understand that the man who raised them was once and forever deeply touched by a man born 142 years ago...and to maybe help them understand that history is only someone else's yesterday.

Thomas Harmon Helms, Little Granddaddy talking to me as I lie on his daybed on the closed portion of Big Granddaddy's front porch. I was about three - he was already over 80. 

10 May 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Finding All of Our Grandmothers, Part 3


Society Pages - Check for Engagements, wedding announcements, and anniversaries. The big anniversaries (50 years+) often have some family history. Also, announcements of vists from or to out of town relatives - brothers, sisters, parents - were common in the late 1800s to mid-1900s.


Obituaries: - If it is the woman's obituary, look for brothers and parents. In online newspaper searches, look for the woman's married name in the obituaries of parents or brothers.  This one gives her maiden name and also has both parents and a brother named:

But this one is still the best obituary that I ever found. It gives her date and place of birth, names her parents, names her husband, gives the date and place of marriage, identifies a town where the family previously lied, names a couple of her children and names one of her sons-in-law. It is obituary to dream of :

Good Hunting!

Tuesday's Tip: Finding All our grandmothers, Part 2

Census Records
The 1850 through 1930 U. S. Census  reports recorded the names of every member of the household. From 1880 forward, the relationship of each person to the head of household was also recorded.  Look very closely at people in the household who have different surnames.  An aged or widowed parent of the woman of the house may be living with the family, or they may have taken in a deceased brother’s child. 

 Example: The 1850 U.S. Census of Stewart County, Georgia, shows 21 year old Reason Jerkins and his new bride Mary (note that the married within the year columns is checked). My goal is to learn Mary's maiden name.
By 1860, Reason and Mary had moved to Mississippi; the 1860 and 1870 Census reports there record only themselves and their children in the household.  But on the census of Hinds County, MS, we find that the now widowed Mary Jerkins has her widowed mother, Elizabeth Bates living with her.

If we look back at the 1850 Census of Stewart County, Georgia, we notice that the family recorded just above Reason and Mary Jerkins is that of  William Bates, age 21 - of an age to be Mary's brother. And just before William, we find Elizabeth Bates who is likely the same Elizabeth Bates living with Mary Jerkins in 1880.

09 May 2011

Matrilineal Monday: Finding All of Our Grandmothers

It is nearly certain that if you have been researching for more than a years, you have one or more female ancestors who belong to one of those two great matrilineal families, Lnu or Unk; or maybe yours is just ???? It is no great mystery as to why this is true.Women have traditionally given up their maiden names when they marry. And even here in America - the land of the free - it took centuries for women to achieve the right to enter into contracts in their own name or to own or sell property without the husband's permission. As a result, many of the women in our lineages have left precariously small footprints in the traditional records that we genealogists pursue. But a small footprint is not the same as not footprint and this post begins a series that addresses some of the places where those precious tracks might be found.

Part 1 - The "Duh" Tip - Marriage & Divorce Records
Okay, you probably thought of marriage records before. But not everyone will think of all of the possible marriage records that may be available in any given jurisdiction.Depending on the location and time period, one or more of the following marriage records may be found:
  • Marriage Registers - These are the "Marriage Books" found at the county level (and town level in some jurisdictions).
  • Marriage Licenses - The original went with the folks receiving the license, but copies often exist in court records.
  • Marriage Bonds - Counties required protection from legal actions in the event that the marriage that they were licensing proved illegal. Bonds were posted for this purpose - often by the groom and a relative or friend acting as security. They are usually found at the County Courthouse, but may be found in other repositories. Early North Carolina marriage bonds, for example, were handled by the Department of State and can be found at the State Archives.
  • Marriage Returns - also called Minister's Returns. Most jurisdictions required the official performing the marriage to return to the agency issuing the license a statement that the marriage had occurred.
  • Parental Permissions. They are usually found among the records in the county courthouse. Marriage records are also usually indexed and are frequently published.
Divorce - Some folks have the notion that divorce did not happen, or very rarely happened in earlier times. Sadly, this is just not true. This ad was published in the Floridian and Advocate for 3 months beginning the last week of June, 1832 because Zachariah Jerkins was divorcing his wife in a Tallahassee Court, and she did not live within the Territory of Florida. This ad does not give Martha Jerkins surname, but the divorce records connected to the ad did - as well as the location of the marriage and the birth of the couple's children. Divorce records can usually be found at the local courthouse or held by an appropriate department of vital statistics. Some states, such as Florida, have an index that provides the necessary details for ordering a case file. 

Good Hunting!

05 May 2011

Those Places Thursday: Fordyce, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

My wife Cheryl’s father was born in Scotland and though they immigrated to America many generations earlier, I have Scottish ancestors of my own. So we had long since gathered all of the family stories and had done quite a lot of long-distance Scottish research via the online records at Scotland’s People before we finally got the chance to visit the old homeland. Being there was a great joy, and we took advantage to visit nearly all of the old home places that we had found via the internet.

The tiny and ancient village of Fordyce near the north coast of Scotland in Aberdeenshire was one of three villages (Cullen and Portsoy were the others) within 5 miles of one another that had been home to many generations of Cheryl’s Forbes clan and it was one of our favorite sites of our vist
Fordyce sits in a little vale on the right bank of the Fordyce Burn, which runs into the sea about 21/2 miles away near the village of Portsoy. As you approach, at first all that you can see are rooftops. But as you enter the village, you see that it looks, for all the world, like a movie set or a set up for creating post cards, rather than a place where people actually lived.

Dating at least to the year 1272, and now one of Scotland’s conservation villages, Fordyce is renowned as a center of outstanding architectural and historical interest.

The little village even has its own castle of sorts. It is more of a large house with an attached fighting tower than what we think of as a castle, and  assume that the nobleman who built it was probably not of the highest rank. We were assured that the castle was a late addition to the village, not actually having been built until 1592.

The castle sits immediately adjacent to the village's ancient cemetery where the ruins of an equally ancient church stands witness to the many, many generations of burials. It is a place, needless to say, to which we were immediately drawn. And it was there that we finally hit genealogical paydirt - the graves of my wife's third great grandparents, Peter Forbes and May Badenoch. If you have Scottish ancestors but have not yet done research in Scottish records, you will be delighted to know that women are routinely identified with their maiden names, both in Church and Civil records.
Cheryl Macfarlane Butler, sister Sandra Macfarlane Nebergall, and Jack Butler at ancestral Forbes grave.
It was a trip to generate a lifetime of memories.

03 May 2011

Mappy Monday - Florida Spanish Land Grants

If you have ancestors who were early Florida settlers, this is a must see resource. If not, it is still an interesting peek at history.

In 1790, during their 2nd period in control of Florida, Spain started offering land grants to settlers in the hopes that they could reduce the vulnerability of the colony by boosting the population.  It didn’t work – in 1819, under the cover of retaliatory attacks on Indians that had been raiding American Alabama and Georgia and then withdrawing into Spanish territory, Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida.  Jackson did punish the Indians, burning numerous towns in the process.

Using the claim that Spain had been arming the Indians against Americans, he also  captured the Spanish city of Pensacola. Many historians believe that this was the true goal of Jacskon's invasion, and Jackson's letter to President Monroe shortly before the invasion certianly suggests that this is true.  "Let it be signified to me through any channel... that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished."   At any rate, Spain recognized their inability to defend their colony, and capitulated. By 1821, Florida belonged to the United States.

As part of the treaty that transferred Florida to the U.S., it was agreed that Spanish land grants in the now former colony would be honored. Recognizing the possibilities for major fraud by forged claims, the U.S. set up a Board of Land Commissioners was in 1822 and forced all claimants to prove their rights to the land they were claiming.

In so doing, the government created not only a very interesting look at the early settlement of Florida, but also a very useful genealogy resource. To make it an even better resource, documents from these claims have been digitized and placed online by the Florida State Archives as part of their Florida Memory project. Requirements for sucessful proof of a claim (which may run from just a few pages to over 100 pages) always included the original grant in Spanish, an English translation of the grant and also a totally new survey of the land.

These surveys, or plat maps for the property being claimed are part of these digitized claims. The ones below are from the claim of Josiah Smith, Box 31, Folder 4, Page 33, for 1,000 acres of land near the junction of the St. Mary's and Bells Rivers in what was then St. John's County, now Nassau County, Florida:

This is the original Spanish plat map

The new survey ordered by the Land Commission

It is not often that you can accurately locate a metes and bounds survey on a modern map. But as the aerial photo below shows, the odd shape of the land and the proximty of two known rivers allowed it to happen this time

Modern topographic map of the claim

Sadly this is not one of my own ancestors. I am afraid that I am still looking for that..."large red oak tree near the middle of Horse Meadow Swamp."

Tuesday's Tip - Census Spotlight

Immigration and Naturalization

Immigration and Naturalization records can provide substantial information about our ancestors. As with most records, the information collected became more detailed and valuable to the genealogist in later years. Many people do not recognize that the U.S. Census provides clues as to the existence of these records.

1820 - 1830 Census - Both of these census reports had questions about the number of "Foreigners not naturalized" in each household.
These censuses do not identify the person or persons in the household who are aliens, but this clue certainly notifies you to look for known household members in ship’s passenger manifests - beginning in 1820, ship's masters had to provide a list of passengers. They also suggest watching for household members in naturalization records which were usually handled by the local courts during this period.

1870 Census - This census has a column (far right side of the page) for "Male Citizens of the U.S. of 21 years of age and upwards." If you have an immigrant ancestor who has this column checked, it suggests that he had been naturalized - again, check the local courts for naturalization records.  This census also has a column to indicate whether or not the individual's parents were of foreign birth.

1880 to 1930 - All list the birthplace of the person's parents. Foreign births are clues to the existence of passenger lists and naturalization records.

1900 to 1930 - All have columns indicating a foreign born person's natualization status. "AL" indicated alien, not naturalized. "NA" meant that the person had been naturalized, and "PA" indicated that first papers had been filed - the naturalization process was underway but not complete.  The 1920 Census has a column that gives the year of immigration.


01 May 2011

Mappy Monday - Finding the Family Farm

This post only applies to finding land in PublicDomain States. It is a little long, but hopefully it will be useful.

If you were like me, the first time that you saw a land description like this one: NW¼ , NW ¼, S11, T2N R2W, Tallahassee M., you shook your head and murmured to yourself  “I thought that I was through with algebra 40 years ago.” But to effectively use the land records of the public-land states, you must learn to read land descriptions based on the rectangular survey system and learn how to locate the described land on a map. Besides, it is a lot easier than it looks, and it is much closer to geometry than to algebra.

The rectangular survey system is also known as the Cadastral system, or the Public Domain Survey system. It has been used to plot public domain since 1786, when lands in Ohio were first surveyed to be available for military bounties, and to be offered for sale to the public.

While not intuitive, it is a surprisingly simple system. When the government wanted to sell publicly owned land, they would establish an arbitrary starting point through which a meridian passed – meridians are those imaginary north/south lines that divide up the earth on your globe. An arbitrary east/west Base Line, perpendicular to the selected Meridian and crossing that meridian, was then established.

An imaginary grid of squares known as Congressional Townships, commonly just called townships, was then placed on the land, using the intersection of the selected Meridian and the Base Line and moving north, south, east and west from that intersection.

Those townships located north of the base line are referred to as North or "N".  Those south of the base line are referred to as South or "S".  Ranges to the right, or east, of the Principal Meridian are considered as East or "E", while those located to the left, or the west of the Principal Meridian are labeled as West or "W".

Each Township contained six square miles of land, divided into thirty six numbered sections containing 1square mile of land. The numbering system is  not intuitive. It starts at "1" in the uppermost NE section and proceeds west to section 6, then south one section, which is section 7, then east again to section 12, south one section to section 13, then west again to section 18, and so on.

A township might, for example, be identified as Township 2, North, Range 2, West, which would mean that it was located in the 2nd tier of townships north of a baseline and in the 2nd range or column of townships west of the selected meridian
This next figure provides a visual example of how this works. In this example, the 40 acre piece of land in the extreme upper left of section 11 would be legally described as the NW ¼, NW ¼, S 11, T2N, R2W, Tallahassee. In English, this becomes the Northwest 1/4 of the Northwest 1/4 of Towhship 2 North, Range 2 West, using the Tallahassee Meridian.

Maps – Placing Your Ancestors on the Land Where They Lived

The Township, Range, and Section numbers have not changed since the original surveys. As a result, superimposing the rectangular survey grid over a map of the county where your ancestors owned land allows you to very quickly and easily locate the land on the map.  This is true even though the property may have started in one county and ended up in another county.

Plat Maps – These maps show the area divided by township, range, and section. Check your State Archives – they often have original plat maps for each county by Township and Range.  The map below is the plat of Jackson County, Florida Township 3 N, Range 10 West. The map was created from an 1826 survey, but the marked off sections on the maps are the plots of land that were sold up through the 1850s.

The numbers written in the sections are patent certificate numbers. They can be used on the BLM-GLO web site to identify the owners.

Plat maps get really interesting when they are more modern maps showing roads, towns, churches, and cemeteries.  Using the map and the information that you have gained, you can locate the towns, churches, cemeteries, and schools closest to the land.  These are the facilities and institutions most likely used by your ancestors.  If you choose, you may be able to visit and actually walk on the land owned by your ancestor, or find the old house your ancestors lived in.

You can get some of these modern plat maps free from your State of interest’s Department of Transportation. Also, many county property tax departments have Township and Range maps that are available for a small fee. In addition, Arphax (www.arphax.com), a map publishing company, is in the process of publishing, state by state and county by county, township maps that plat all original patentees. This is Department of Transportation map:
This is a map of Jackson County, Florida that includes Township and Range gridlines. The red dot represents the actual location of my great great grandfather’s farm in Township 3 North, Range 10 West. Using this map, I was able to visit and stand on the land acquired by my great, great grandfather as a reward for serving in the Florida War (Seminole & Creeks War). By transferring this location to another Dept. of Transportation map that showed the location of cemeteries, I was able to find my great great grandfather's grave, along with those of several of his children.