Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inspired, but stalled

After listening to ESM's census talk at IGHR (see my previous post about IGHR here ), I'm really inspired to take a stab at something she showed us. One of our class exercises was to go over some fictional information to find the parents of a woman when she and her husband do not appear in the census and there is only one other person living in the county of that surname with no records connecting the two people as father and daughter and no real direct leads as to who the woman's family might be.

The part about this research that really struck me was the topo map that she did for not just the county where the research started, but also the neighboring county. She placed the neighborhood of the only other person of this name in this county from the census (specifically those on the pages before, after and on the same page) on the plat map and then took the federal land description for the subject couple and placed them on the map as well to get a sense of distance. Then she also plopped the county seat on the map to get a sense of where these families were in relation to the county government. As it turned out, the county seat for the neighboring county was actually closer to the subject couple and that was where doing a plat map for the neighboring county came into play because that ended up being the county where another person of the same surname was found, and yet another lead that led to the right potential father.

So what you end up with is a rectangular grid covering the ranges and townships (the example was in a public land state) for two counties. This is probably pretty similar to what you all are familiar with, however I'm more used to platting out individual properties within a particular township so the idea of taking the span out to include several townships and going into neighboring counties is taking things to another level for me. I thought I could really put this to some use for a few of my "stumpers", especially since most of them involve families who were moving around between the IN and OH state borders. To make matters more complicated, some of these border-settling movers and shakers also appear to have been landless and are missing from the deed books, so their situation can really be compared to the example from class.

I'm really excited to try this out, I'll probably start with the Atkinsons from Clinton Co., Ohio since that's the project I seem to be devoting most of my time to lately (you can read a little about them here and here). I'll post a second part to help get a plan going but in the meantime, it's time to get working on ordering the FHL film. I wish it could all get here quickly, I hate waiting!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another interesting fact from IGHR

Another of the insightful discussions from the Advanced Methodology course at IGHR this year concerned those Fee Books that you often find on courthouse office shelves and basements. Honestly, I think I can count on one hand how many times I've flipped through one of those books. Let's face it, when you're surrounded by vital records ledgers and wills and estates and court records and deeds and every other goldmine of information that a courthouse has to offer, something with the tedious title of "fee book" doesn't really do much for me. But the truth of the matter is, I was hurting my research and if you've been avoiding them too, you haven't done the best for your work either.

So what can these fee books possibly offer to us that would make them useful in any way? Well the most obvious answer is that you have done work in a burned records county, you know already that records are few and far between and you pretty much have to take what you can get. Fee books are often among the remaining records in these counties for various reasons, including that they were often kept in a different place from the vital records information, so when you're missing your subject in those goldmine records, these fee books may provide the only direct evidence that your subject was even there.

Which brings us to the next point. Our ancestors had civil duties back then, just as we do now. They were also called for jury duty, for instance, and this service was recorded as payment information in the fee books. Like previously stated in reference to the tax records, though this may just be a name and a bunch of numbers which appear to have no rhyme or reason, there could be answers in those numbers. But it's up to you to track down what they mean. Those numbers generally refer to the amount the person was paid for his service to the locale and this number was calculated using such variables as mileage from their home to the courthouse, how many days they were there (food costs), and more. But the mileage from the courthouse could be extremely valuable and I think any genealogist worth their salt could figure out why. Especially if you're trying to determine possible family connections between people of the same surname because you can use that mileage rate to help determine distances from the courthouse and then compare with your family plat map to see who lived closest to your subject and would therefore, be more likely to have a family connection. This is certainly not a source to provide conclusive evidence in this case, but it is definitely a good source to help point you towards some good, solid leads.

So, overall, I think I'm in the same boat as most everyone else. When faced with a will or probate book and a rather drab-sounding fee book, my first instinct is going to be to grab the will book first. But after this truly enlightening part of the IGHR course, I'm going to be sure not to stop with that alone. That fee book could offer up more than you expect, but you'll never know unless you take a look.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ok, now that the dust has settled...quick IGHR run-down

Have you ever watched magic happen right in front of your eyes? Gene-magic that is, not sitting in the front row at a David Copperfield performance. That's pretty much how I felt sitting in my Advanced Methodology class at IGHR. You sit and watch Elizabeth Shown Mills perform magic, and it was really something to see. Those few days were about watching a real professional do her magic and then trying to figure out if I can emulate those strategies. That's a big fat maybe (I'm just not one to have a lot of self-confidence in my abilities) but the fact is that now I think I have a few extra tricks up my sleeve to help me get a little further and that's a great feeling.

Some key points from the course included how to get the most out of those tax rolls, how to get the most from census records, and knowing exactly how much is available in military records.

The tax roll and census record exercises from class were absolutely mind-blowing. Think about those tax rolls you've seen. They're basically just names with a bunch of numbers after them. You use them to pretty much place an individual in a specific place at a specific time, tracking them, right? You may or may not have paid much attention to those numbers but if you are one who just glanced at them and moved on, did you know that those numbers can sometimes tell you the vicinity of your subject, helping you identify the neighborhood and his neighbors? One of the best tools we use in our research is the concept of FAN - collecting FRIENDS, ASSOCIATES, and NEIGHBORS when we're trying to solve a mystery on our individual. Tax rolls can be another tool for finding neighbors, even if you're looking at a roll with no columnar headings and/or the list has been alphabetized so that you don't know the original order. I didn't know that, did you? Those numbers can also tell you how much land the person had just by looking at how much value was placed on the land and how much he paid for it.

The census discussion was another one that really changed the way commonly used records can be approached. When you're looking at a census sheet showing your subject, you take note of the fact that they are in that place at that time, whom they are living with, ages and places (where available), and sometimes maybe their occupation. But how often do you check to see what the definitions of those occupations were for that census year? "Farmer" could mean something different than what you think. If someone is listed as a "Farmer" does that mean they own their own land and have hired farm hands, or are they tenant farmers, living off someone else's land? The answer could make a difference to you, especially if you're wanting to track them down through land records. If they're living off of someone else's land, they may not appear in deed books so you could have to track them by tracking the landowner instead and you wouldn't know this unless you knew why that person was written down with the occupation that they were given and that answers is in the census enumerator's instructions. Also, did you know that between 1850 and 1870 there were 3 official copies of the census? Not just one local and one federal as in previous years. For these years, there was the federal copy and then 2 preliminary local copies; one given to the local county clerk and one given to the secretary of the state. The clerk's copy can often still be found in the county courthouses while the secretary of state copy can sometimes be found in the state archives. The third copy is the federal copy that was sent to Washington and is now at NARA. Do you know how many are available for your state between these years? What if one only shows initials for names? If there are other copies available to you, you need to know this because that other copy (or copies) could give you the actual names rather than just the initials. That's a big deal and you need to know that.

A final thought from the class was just how much is available to you if you utilize military records to help solve your problems. You may have found your ancestor's military pension record or found their name in a pension index on or, but do you stop there or keep going? Because there is always more that can be found. There are numerous preliminary inventories available, through NARA or through gene-book sites like, listing places for you to find other goodies to find your subject. If you find your ancestor's Revolutionary War pension file on footnote and just stop, you're really shorting yourself. You may be able to find records of his pension payment schedule, receipts, etc. all telling you where he or she was picking up their payments. If you've been having trouble tracking them, these receipts can really help you. If you know the person and the general area they were living but you don't know who was with them, knowing who was picking up their payments could really help you. If you don't check out what's available to you, you won't know that there could be more information waiting for you to find and you could be overlooking something that could fill in the blanks to your problem. The key point here was, don't stop looking once you find that pension and/or service record. There is more to be found.