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.

1 comment:

  1. Great summary and great tips! I hope to get to IGHR in the next couple of years.