Monday, January 31, 2011

Starting out right

Ok, there has been a delay with my Isaac "Will" Atkinson project (the volunteer is sick and now there's a huge snow storm getting ready to come through IL and IN within the next couple of days) so I thought I'd take the opportunity to start this one out "officially". That is, to do this one strictly by the book from start to finish. After you get to do things a certain way for so long it's hard to change your ways and learn to do things differently. That is one thing that ProGen and the NGS Home Study Course are good for, amongst others. They both teach you how to most be more efficient in your research. I'm a perpetually disorganized person unfortunately, so I've got my notes on several projects scattered around all other the place. For this one though, I'm determined to make a better start and work according to the methods I should be using for all my projects. Yes, I'm unabashedly ashamed that I haven't been doing so regularly but really, when I am my own boss and neither side of myself is all that keen on confrontation it's not very likely I'm going to tell myself off for not doing so :)

So, back to the subject at hand. While I'm waiting to receive Isaac's death certificate, I decided I would get organized and would start with making a research log to keep track of what I've looked at so far and what each record tells me. I have another little hurdle though since it appears that I lost my scanned copy of Isaac's daughter's marriage application so I'll have to get that back (there's another little shout-out for cloud computing!) one way or another but I'll make do until it's revived. Though I don't currently have Isaac himself pegged in a census yet, at least not with any certainty, I can include the 1900 census of his former wife, possible widow, living with a new husband, new children, and their daughter Esther Atkinson. Obviously, the documents of Esther's marriage, which give the only concrete info currently maintained on Isaac, will have to be included once I get them back in my possession.

The ProGen book (pgs 287-288) state that the research log, also known as a master source list, is basically a list of sources that you have looked into during the project. It helps you keep track of those resources that you have already used and what they told you so you don't end up retracing your steps unnecessarily. The research log can also help you stay organized and keep all your pertinent info together to help you form your research plan and gather evidence for your conclusions. The research log should include:

~the date you used that source
~the citation for the source
~the time period covered by that source (generally regarding original source material, such as a ledger of death certificates which can often span a rather long time frame); you need to mention whether you searched the entire time frame covered in the specific source, or if it was only a portion of it, which you would then state in your log
~the name of the repository where you used it
~if the source mentioned is an original source, leave room for a notation about whether a copy was made and if so, write down the cross referencing info to find the copy of the source
~state whether the search within the source produced positive or negative results; did you find answers to your specific questions, or nothing at all?

What this format is basically pointing to is a spreadsheet like what you would make in Excel, but you can also make a standard table in Word, though it might be a bit more of a task as you continue to build upon that table with additional sources.

So with this in mind, I'm off to work on a research log for Isaac. I don't appear to be able to post Excel files on blogger so I'm not sure if I'll be able to upload it here, but I might be able to come up with an abridged version or scan it and upload it that way or something. In any case, I'm starting this one off right and hopefully I can stick with it throughout the course of the project.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interesting, interesting...

Still just dabbling around with my new project a bit today and decided to look around with the Ohio side of things. In the last post, I had taken on a new project in finding out the approximate birth date and origins of Isaac "Will" Atkinson who married in an Indiana-Ohio border county in 1885. At this point, Isaac is a brand new person in a branch of my in-laws family that I haven't done much work on. Pretty much all I have to go on right now was a copy of his daughter's marriage license application stating his name and that was about it. Isaac has not been positively identified in any census enumeration and his wife, Emma Batchelor, appears to have gotten remarried prior to 1900 who could be signaling either a death or divorce for Isaac in the 1890s.

So I started just doing fairly simple searches for an Isaac or a William in Ohio in the 1870 and 1860 census enumerations. In 1860 I found an interesting entry for a family living in Clinton County, Ohio.

The interesting part here is the name of 3 year old Isaac's presumed mother- Esther. Isaac W. Atkinson and Emma Batchelor's only daughter was named Esther. I should probably add a side note here that I'm not jumping to conclusions and saying yes, I've found the right Isaac. That would just be silly. But after doing this kind of thing for quite some time now, I'd be doing a pretty shotty job if I didn't take note of naming patterns and keep my eyes open for children named for parents, grandparents, etc. With good reason, reusing names is an extremely common thing. So I'm taking note of this family and will keep it in mind but for now, that's all.

I did try to find Temple Atkinson and his wife in subsequent census records, since they are fairly young in this 1860 enumeration, but didn't have much luck. There were other Atkinsons living in Clinton County however so it's possible that they were relations of some kind. Again, something to take note of for the future. Thinking ahead in that vein though, if Temple and his family left Ohio or something happened to them and Isaac was left behind, it would seem to connect with the only Atkinson previously found living in Randolph County, IN (the place of Isaac and Emma's marriage in 1885) in the 1880 census working as a farm hand with the Smith family rather than with parents.

Interesting, interesting...(I just love these mysteries!). Can't wait to hear back from the volunteer about whether record of Isaac's death has been found!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New project has some issues

While I'm waiting for some microfilm on an unrelated project to arrive at my local Family History Center, I decided to revisit some stopping points I left with my Mother-in-Law's side of the family. While I figured out a plan of attack for furthering the research on some of these people, I got attached to a mystery man in the family tree and now I'm determined to find out more about him.

Isaac "Will" Atkinson married Emma Batchelor in Randolph County, Indiana in 1885. The record of their marriage gives no information regarding his date or place of birth and no Isaac Atkinson is found living in Randolph County in 1880. Without this crucial information there are a few pieces of information that are causing some issues-

1.) Considering the geography of Randolph County, an Indiana-Ohio border county, Isaac could have come from either side which expands the search into two states.

2.) Two names; Isaac's marriage record gives his name as Isaac W. Atkinson while the marriage records for his daughter, Esther Atkinson Philips, give his name as "Will" Atkinson. This tells me that William was likely his middle name, but one that he must have gone by which means when I try to find him in census records, I'll have to expand it to include both Isaac and William and any derivations of the two.

3.)Missing 1890 census and remarriage of his wife. Since Isaac and Emma's marriage occurred in 1885, the first census showing their household should have been 1890, which is lost to us. To make matters more complicated, by 1900 his daughter Esther is living in the household of his former wife, Emma, who is remarried. So either Isaac and Emma got divorced or Isaac died in the 1890s which means that the only census I would have to help identify the correct family is the lost 1890 enumeration. That's it. Prior to Isaac and Emma's marriage, without knowing his origins or age, I won't be able to EASILY pick out which person may be correct in the various census enumerations. It may be necessary to make a list of each Isaac and William Atkinson in IN and OH and track them which could be extremely time consuming and not necessarily bring positive results since there is always a possibility that he was skipped or his name was indexed incorrectly or maybe he wasn't even living in either of those states at the time of the enumeration.

So what's happening so far is an expansion of places to look and things to do, rather than a narrowing of possibilities. I need more records and the to-do list is getting pretty big. I decided to start out for the most obvious places and did a check for "Isaac Atkinson" in Randolph County in 1880 but no matches were found. Then I checked the same year and place for "William Atkinson" and found one possibility only. Unfortunately, the William Atkinson found in 1880 in Randolph County wasn't living with his parents. He was working as a farm hand for the Smith family and living in a different township than his future wife, Emma. However, the census does tell us that this William was born about 1856 in Ohio, as were his parents. Attempting to track this person, I searched the 1900 census for William Atkinson (soundex) living in Randolph County, born about 1856 (+/- 5 yrs) and received no matches. Though not definitive, it appears that the William Atkinson from 1880 either left the county or died and death is the more likely answer since when I expanded the search of the 1900 census to include the whole of Indiana, I only found 2 other William Atkinsons; one from a different county who had been married at least twice making a marriage to Emma in 1885 impossible, and the other in a nearby county who looks like he can be traced back to Ohio in 1880, not to Indiana.

After all this poking around with the census records without finding much of a definitive answer, I felt like I needed more information and fortunately, I found it from a lone message board post. Someone was searching for information on Isaac's wife, Emma, and had posted a date range for Isaac of 1857-1892. She didn't say where but her date range fit in nicely with the preliminary search notes that I had taken down. I contacted her to ask where she got these dates from and if she had any further info on Isaac but the post was from many years ago so I'm not holding my breath that she'll receive it. Even if she doesn't though, a proposed 1857 birth date is only a year off from the "abt 1856" birth date of the William living in Randolph County in 1880 with the Smith family, and the 1892 death date fits in well with the remarriage of his wife prior to 1900.

Fortunately, there is a volunteer on Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness who does lookups in Randolph County so I'm hoping that maybe she will be able to take a look for an 1892 death record for Isaac/William. Death records for the county begin in 1882 so hopefully his record of death will be included and may give me some additional info to go on.

If a death record can be found, then it may also be able to order copies of his probate packet. Indiana probate packets can really be goldmines of information so it would be wonderful to have that available for Isaac, who I know so little about. But first, I'm waiting to hear about a death record. Hopefully I'll get good news back from the volunteer soon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

IGHR here I come...

Well, not yet but in June. This morning I got registered for Course 4: Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University. IGHR will be held on June 12-17 this year on the Birmingham, Alabama campus. For more info go to

Sunday, January 9, 2011

...Now What, Post 2

So with that rather long run-down of what I've done, what I'm doing, and other options to possibly take in the future, I'm left with the question of "Now What?" I've done the conferences and the societies, I'm working on the indexing project and the Always a Hoosier project in Indiana, I've completed ProGen and the NGS Home Course, and I've been to a session at IGHR and plan to attend again this June (P.S., the registration for the 2011 session opens up on Jan. 18th!). So what's left? Actually, a lot. I can't really afford the Boston University course. It's over $2000 and that's including the discount from being a member of APG and/or NGS. It's too much for me. There is the Toronto program, NIGS, but that too is a certificate program and at this point I'm not sold that a full fledged program is the right fit for me anymore. NIGR, or the National Institute of Genealogical Research through the National Archives, would be wonderful to take, being familiar with and knowing how to use the records available at the National Archives is an essential tool. I really think the NIGR should be a requirement for those seeking certification just because of how important it is to know those records. And it works logistically for me because it's in the summer, when my son is out of school and can stay with family while I'm away. And the price is affordable; tuition is $350 for a week-long course. So that's a good possibility.

Beyond that, I feel like what I need most at this point is more field work and more client work. Because of how often I move, thanks to my husband's job with the Navy, I don't have enough experience with the local community to attempt to get work wherever we might be living so my client experience is extremely limited. That makes a big difference to how close I may be to getting a portfolio together for certification because an example of client work is a requirement. Without it, I'm not ready to start the certification process. The question really, is how to find people who might need work to be done in a geographic area that I feel comfortable with. Either that, or get myself comfortable enough with Illinois records so that I can do the work. I do have some IL experience since it's the state I'm from, but I would definitely need to bone up on things before I could feel comfortable doing work for someone else. It would absolutely need to be pro bono but it would be worth it to get the experience.

So right now, the best thing for me to do is keep researching the dark corners and mysteries in my own family lines and those of my family and who ever will let me work on them. I need work! And I need to be diligent about it. I'm thinking maybe I'll open up another project while trying to find someone for whom I can do a project for. I'm thinking I may also take my final NGS course assignment, the narrative biography, and turn it into something that I could submit to a few places as an article. While having a published article is not a requirement for certification, it certainly doesn't hurt.

So I'm going to start with picking a new mysterious project to work on, and I have a few options for that.....

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Officially Completed the NGS Home Course...Now What? Post 1

As most of you who visit the site probably already know, I'm in the process of training myself to become ready for the BCG (Board for Certification of Genealogists) Certification process. What this means is that if I can get my skills up to the point where my portfolio holds up to their rigorous reviewing standards, I would become a "CG", or Certified Genealogist, and that holds great weight for me. Not all professional genealogists are CGs, or have received their accreditation through ICAPGEN (the other credentialing body in the field) and there is nothing that says those who haven't gotten their CG or AG aren't as good as those who do. But to me, being a CG tells my clients that I've made the commitment to standards and good business practice to deliver the best product available to them. It also tells me that I can take the challenges that will come my way and gives me something to be extraordinarily proud of.

So, on this path I've taken numerous steps to prepare, in addition to the rather obvious step of delving into all corners of my own family history as well as that of my husband and any friends who stay awake long enough while I explain what I want to do. But there are still a few things I'd like to get done before submitting a portfolio because I still don't quite feel ready. So I thought maybe this post might be helpful to make people aware of the possibilities if you decide that genealogical education might be for you, whether with the ultimate goal of certification or without it...

1-I joined APG, the Association of Professional Genealogists. Besides getting their publication, as a member you also join a prestigious group of professionals in the field and get listed in their directory to help clients find you. See their site at

2-I joined the NGS, the National Genealogical Society as well as other societies of interest to the work that I was doing. NGS offers one of the most valued periodicals in the field as well as many courses, such as the Home Course that I just finished. You can read more about NGS at At the time I first started, I began with the New England side of the family since that was the side I had the most info to begin with so I found the NEHGS, the New England Historic Genealogy Society, to be of immense importance. Like the NGS journal, the periodical for the NEHGS is among the best for those with or without New England Ancestry. You can find them at

3-Just to be clear, local societies should not be neglected. Yes, costs for carrying membership fees for all of these societies can be pricey but the importance of the information you receive topped off by the opportunities you can find through the local societies is really priceless. The local societies are also a great way to get connected and bring in clients. Some geographic societies that I belong to are: The Virginia Genealogical Society,, and the Indiana Genealogical Society, The VGS is another society that is great whether you have VA ancestors (that you know of yet) or not. Keep in mind that a great deal of our early ancestors either traveled through Virginia or settled there, even temporarily. Somehow, most roads tend to lead there so it's good to have the information included in their wonderful periodical.

4-Sign up for ProGen. If you have any thoughts on possibly taking on clients, whether paying or not, you really should take this course. Not only does it help you understand how to deal with business dealings related to a genealogical business, it also helps point you in the right direction for work that you do for clients, as well as for yourself. Can we say, research reports people? Yeah, it's covered in ProGen. Best of all, ProGen is free! Find info here

5-Take the NGS Home Course, especially the graded option. This course is extremely in-depth. It literally starts you off with the basics and works all the way up to a narrative genealogy using all of the records you've learned to use throughout the course. And let's face it, if you're going to dive head-first into the vat of research and resources, you might as well take full advantage of it and get some valuable feedback from people who have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Graded option all the way.

6-Go to a week long course whether it's NIGR,, IGHR,, or SLIG, you need to attend at least one of these in-depth sessions. Ideally, all of them at least once because the offerings are different and equally valuable. NIGR is a course with a focus on federal records at the National Archives and considering how standards these records are to our research, it's super important to be able to understand them. It is high on the list of my priorities. The courses available through IGHR and SLIG are similar but both take broad topics like you find at the conferences through NGS or FGS and take you step by step, source by source, and allow you to do coursework to understand them and ask questions of the most recognizable names in the field like Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills. You will not find a more interesting and valuable week than a course through these programs.

7-Attend the big conferences like NGS or FGS. This is pretty self-explanatory really. While it might not be necessary to attend every year, they can get pricey, it's a good way to network with others and see big names give seminars on some interesting topics. It also looks good in your certification portfolio to let them know you get involved and get around.

8-Get involved with the original records as much as possible. This is an on-going process that you will ideally use throughout your career. While having availability online is great, especially for people like me who live at a distance from their focus areas, there is no substitute for going on-site and discovering how those records are kept, where they are, what's included in them and how they change over time, and getting as familiar with the records in that Courthouse as you possibly can without having them superglued to your eyelids.

That's kind of the rundown that I've got in my head right now but I know there are lots of other ways to train yourself and get yourself prepared and on the right path for certification. One that comes to mind now is the new course available through Boston University. It's been getting some great feedback and would be a great option for those who could swing it. It's a bit pricey for me but slight discounts are available for members of APG or NGS. Also the University of Toronto program (also known as NIGS) comes to mind. Their program is a bit easier to handle financially and is also very well respected. Info on these programs can be found at and respectively.

If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to post it. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to jump into now that the NGS course is over, but I'm sure I'll post about that here too :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Great articles in the new NGS Magazine!

Hi all, I got my new NGS Magazine (Oct-Dec 2010) in the mail a few days ago and was really excited about a few of the articles included. The first one is by Debbie Mieszala, CG and is called "The Curious Case of the Disappearing Dude". It's actually the article that made me want to revisit the 1905 New York State census in search of my Ward family members (as described in the previous post). I think we can all relate to having at least one, if not more, of those relatives who shows up for one census enumeration or in one record just enough to peak our interest and then flies by the wayside, never to be seen or heard from again. That is, until you start to dig deeper and start piecing apart your research. Debbie's article tells about her journey towards finding a subject who first shows up as a 2-year-old and then disappears from the records. Along the way, she finds that not just her subject, but his whole family disappears from the records until she starts really tracking those members she can find and those leads open more leads to the others until eventually she has found all but her initial subject but has gained a slew of evidence pointing towards his possible whereabouts. It's a great article and I found it to be pretty inspiring for my own research because I ended up heading right back to the last known location for my own family: the 1905 NY census. So give it a read and see what kind of inspiration you get for your own projects.

The second article in the Oct-Dec 2010 NGS Magazine that I found to be a wonderful resource for future research was Jean Atkinson Andrews' article on neighborhood reconstruction pre-1850. It's called simply, "Developing a Neighborhood of Associates". I think we can all agree that finding the neighbors can be especially important when you're trying to gain as much info as possible about your target person/family. From 1850 onwards, we are lucky to have the snapshot of the neighborhood and to make great use of that, it's common practice for us to take note of those people listed on at least the page before and the page after your subject appears, as well as all those people who appear on the same page. This is even one of the assignments in the NGS HSC, for the lesson on migration, so it's a great exercise to keep in mind. Tracking neighbors can help lead you to birth and marriage locations, places of origin, intermarried families, and lots more. But what do you do when you are looking at a person/family alive prior to the 1850 enumerations? Not only do we lose out on the names of the family members living within a household, but we also lose the neighborhood snapshot because the addresses were not recorded as they were in later censuses and no townships or specifications on where the individuals listed were living within the given county were shown.

This wonderful articles gives you a great idea for how to proceed with creating a pre-1850 neighborhood reconstruction beginning with land entry case files. The author has a subject who can be traced living near someone else and even migrating to another state around the same time as the other person before disappearing from the records. Without the use of those later records, such as death certificates and possible appearances in later censuses, to help give clues to his origin, the author needed to find another way to learn where he came from through other means. Fanning out her research to include his neighbors in the census enumerations she did have for him was the way for her to start. To begin, she orders the land entry case file for her disappearing subject which unfortunately did not give an explicit info on his origins or family breakdown. That didn't mean her research stopped however. Instead, she developed a research plan which dove into the land purchasing process in the state where her subject obtained his land, and studied those who purchased the land near his, where those people came from, the history of the area which they chose to purchase in, and tracking those people both forwards and backwards in the census and lots lots more. What she was able to do was create a grid with information on virtually all of his neighbors and then track them in the censuses and expand her search in the county histories to include those people which then gave her information on migration paths to add to what she had learned about the origins of her subject's neighbors. All of which could be useful tools in finding out where her subject was from.

It's an amazing article to keep on hand for future research not just because it gives us all something else to try when we feel we're at a roadblock with those early censuses, but also because so often researchers just stop once their research takes them to those often-less-than-satisfying pre-1850 census enumerations. They just don't seem to give some people that same high of finding what you want to find as the later censuses do and a lot of people don't seem to be all that keen to put the extra effort into moving forward from them. This article might change that for some people by giving them an option to try rather than giving up. It's a must read!