Twists of fate in the family tree on Who Do You Think You Are?
When you start down a road in your family’s history, you never know whose paths may have crossed in the past. Actor Martin Sheen found that out on the first episode of this season of Who Do You Think You Are?. In a mind-bending twist of fate, he learned that a great-great-great-great-grandfather on his grandmother’s side and a great-great-great-great-grandmother on his grandfather’s side had a surprising and unpleasant association 150 years before his grandparents married and connected these two branches into one family. (BTW, you can catch the episode online at www.nbc.com.)
As interesting as it was, if you think about it, it’s shouldn’t be too surprising that branches of your family tree occasionally cross before they connect. In my own files, I have a newspaper clipping about the wedding of a Brooklyn, New York, politician’s daughter. The clipping not only describes the wedding in great detail but also lists all of the guests—and this was no small affair. The guest list was rife with politicians, including ex-president Grover Cleveland and his wife, the governor, a senator, and several congressmen. The father of the bride was no slouch either; he was well-known in political circles as the “Boss” of Brooklyn.
Two of my relatives were also there, and some thirty years later, their grandchildren would marry. While it’s no bombshell like the one dropped on Martin Sheen, it’s a good reminder that your ancestors were part of a community in which their lives intertwined. My two relatives at that wedding were both on the police force, one the ex-commissioner, and the other a patrolman who had worked his way up to become a captain. So they may easily have known each other through their work and shared some mutual friends.
Learning about the people your ancestor interacted with can really bring your family history to life. Start a list of your ancestor’s associates—people whose names appear as sponsors, in-laws, witnesses, business partners, members of a religious community, or even just neighbors. Then hop on Ancestry.com and see what you can turn up on them. Check census records, directories, and historical newspapers for mentions.
As you learn more about them, you’ll get to know your ancestor’s community. If that’s not enough inspiration, keep in mind that immigrants and families often traveled and settled with people they knew. Tracing the origins of your ancestor’s friends and neighbors may lead you to your own ancestor’s roots.
And of course, don’t overlook a direct ancestor’s siblings. Martin Sheen uncovered two compelling stories about two different uncles who shared some of the same political passion. You never know what stories are waiting just off your direct line.
So, now you’ve heard my story. What’s yours? Have you found a connection in your family tree that had you raising an eyebrow or shouting for someone to come take a look at this? Or maybe an inspiring story about your ancestor’s sibling? Please share it in the comments, or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes you find a historical record that just leaves you speechless. Ed Cardinal shared a link with me this week that took me to one such record. It’s posted on a website called Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience. The document is a letter written by a former slave to his master in response to a request from said master to return to work for him. As we mark the start of Black History Month, this find is particularly timely and I’m going to let it speak for itself. You really want to read this entire letter. And thanks to Ed for sharing it with us! Click here to read “To My Old Master” on Letters of Note.
I finally decided to get busy and put some family pictures into my tree on Ancestry.com. I found a box shoved way back on a shelf that was labeled as pictures from my mother’s side. It turned out to be a treasure trove, because my mother and her mother had taken the time to write on each and every one of them who was who. I was finally able to piece together how certain people we had visited when I was a little girl, were related to me. In addition, I found a link to a side of the family that has been hard to fill in. I found one photo of a young man, obviously it was his high school graduation picture. On the back side was written the information that filled in many of the blanks regarding this side of the family, describing who he was, and who his grandmother was. Doing the arithmetic showed that this young man had to have been born in 1912 in Cleveland, so I searched the census records and sure enough, there he was along with many of the people I had been searching for. I had no idea we had ancestors from Cleveland. My grandmother is long deceased, and my mother is not doing well. So I am very grateful for the time they took to write information on those photos, and for the resources available from Ancestry.com that allowed me to update that side of my family tree.
Although I have used Ancestry.com for my family research, my most recent usage has been in conjunction with a local history research project. In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia from 1850-1858 nearly 2000 Irish immigrants workers and families labored to complete the Blue Ridge Railroad over the mountains. A small local group has been working for several years to document these Irish immigrants and tell their stories. Ancestry.com has proved to be invaluable in the search. We find the Irish in the 1850 census in Albemarle County, Va., but by 1860 they have almost all disappeared. By following the railroad and the census, we have found that many moved with the railroad work. Most of our stories stop there. The research group, Clann Mhor, is very interested in hearing from any family members who might have had Irish relatives who worked on the Blue Ridge Railroad or the Virginia Central Railroad from 1850-1858. For more information on our research and to contact us, please go to www.clannmhor.org.
Ancestry.com has spent the past fifteen years developing search technology that can help you find your ancestors in its vast collections. Here are five tips that will help you make the most of that technology.
1. Start with Three When you’re searching on Ancestry.com, there are two search form options—basic and advanced. You can toggle between the two by clicking Show Advanced and Hide Advanced in the upper right corner of the search box. (Don’t be afraid of Advanced even if you’re new to family history; it just means more options and that’s a good thing.) You’ll notice on the basic search form, the top fields are bolded—the fields for names, a place your ancestor lived, and an estimated birth year. We’ve found that these three pieces of information typically bring the most success when you’re getting started on a search. Regardless of what form you use, start with those three pieces of information. If you find you’re getting too many hits with those three things, add a piece of information to help whittle it down—for example, a birthplace. When you’re choosing what details to add, think about what details you know about your ancestor that are most likely to show up in records (and be indexed). Rotate various pieces of information in and out until you hit on a good combination.
2. Create a Profile Once you’ve located a record (or records!) for your ancestor, print it out and start gathering clues. The details you find in each record, can help you to formulate new searches, and will also help you to identify him or her in other records. Use a word processor or a pad of paper to create a profile that includes pieces of information like the following:
Names of family members (parents, siblings, spouse, and children)
Birth date and place (even an estimated date can help)
Parents’ birthplaces (listed in census records 1880-1930
Immigration date (check the 1900-1930 censuses for this detail)
Known residences (look at the headings of censuses, and beginning in 1880, look for street addresses)
Related surnames (e.g., in-laws, neighbors, business associates, sponsors and witnesses at religious events, etc.)
Death date and place
Don’t worry if you don’t have all of them right away. In short, any little detail, you can find about your ancestor can be added to his or her profile. As you gather more details and target your searches based on what you learn, you’ll see that profile growing, and you’ll have a much better understanding of that person and that part of your family story.
3. Use Name Filters Names can be a stumbling point, but the search technology used by Ancestry.com can help. Because we know our ancestor’s names aren’t always spelled the way we expect them to be in records, Ancestry.com employs search technology to not only search for exact matches, but also similar names. You can adjust those settings when you use the Advanced search form by clicking on the link below the name fields that says, Use default settings. The default setting is to include several variant possibilities, but you can manually adjust them to shake up the results you’re seeing.
4. Wildcards If you know your ancestor’s name was spelled in several different ways, you might want to try wildcards to help cover all the variants. Here are the rules for wildcards on Ancestry.com
An asterisk (*) matches zero or more characters.
A question mark (?) matches one character (but there has to be one character there).
The first OR last letter of the name can be a wildcard, but not both.
Names must contain at least three non-wildcard characters.
So, for example, John* would pick up John, Johns, or Johnson. Sm?th would return results for Smith or Smyth. Ann? would find Anne or Anna, but not Ann. Make a list of all the variants you know of for your ancestor’s name and create a list of wildcard solutions that will cover those variants.
5. Get Closer When you’re searching from the main search form on the home page or through the form on the Search tab, you’re searching through 8 billion records in more than 30,000 collections. There are census records, vital records (birth, marriage and deaths), immigration records, military collections, and so much more. Because these records come in so many different shapes and sizes, sometimes it’s helpful to get closer to the collections you think your ancestor may be found in and search it directly.
Look at the profile you created for your ancestor and look at what details you’re missing. Think about what types of records might include that information. Then check and see what resources Ancestry.com has that might help. A great way to canvass the collections available for the location your ancestor lived is through our Place Pages. To access a Place Page, click on the Search tab and scroll down to the map in the lower left corner of the page. Select a state from the map (or some other area of the world from the tabs above the map), and you’ll be taken to a page that summarized the collections that are available for that place.
Another great place to locate collections of interest is the Card Catalog. Similar to a card catalog you’d find in a library, you will be searching for collections rather than people. You can search the catalog by title or keyword. Searching by title will only search for your term(s) in the title of the database, whereas searching by keyword will also search for your term(s) in the extended description of that database, so a that search would typically bring back more results.
Another way to explore the Card Catalog is to use the filters below the search field. You can apply filters for a geographic location, and then perhaps narrow your search by selecting a particular collection (e.g., Immigration and Emigration; Birth, Marriages & Deaths; Stories, Memories & Histories; etc.). Date filters let you specify a particular decade or century so you’re not looking for your twentieth century ancestor in colonial records.
Have Fun! There are many ways to approach a search for your ancestor. Experiment and have fun with it. You never know what you’ll find until you start searching.
A number of years ago, I was working on my husband’s family, made more difficult by the fact that his grandfather had been married three times, and had children with each wife. My husband’s father’s oldest half-brother had been born in 1888 in Illinois but moved to Valentine, Nebraska, where he died in 1937. The family had long ago lost contact with him or his family.
I had no idea whether he had any living descendants or not, so I found the address for the Valentine newspaper online, and sent a letter to the editor. I explained that I was trying to find relatives of this person, who had once owned an auto dealership there. The very afternoon that the paper came out, I had a phone call from a great-granddaughter of the person I was researching. She told me of all the relatives, and from then on I had constant contact with them. I still maintain contact with one of them.
In addition to that, a couple of weeks after my letter appeared in the Valentine paper, I had a letter from a man living in Amarillo, Texas. He still took his hometown paper, and had seen my letter. He had grown up in Valentine, and told me of going to the auto dealership with his father, as a small boy, and things he remembered about this long lost relative.
So sometimes something as simple as a letter to the editor can bring about dramatic results.
My Mom always got excited every time I found a new relative or ancestor, so I decided to display the family tree at her funeral wake last summer, soon after she turned 90. The night before the wake I printed an all-in-one tree, which was at least 12 feet long. It took a few hours to tape 50+ the pages together so it was logical and readable. It was displayed on two long tables at the funeral home, and soon I noticed relatives looking for their names. I always try to include at least two or three generations of spouses and in-laws, and it was fun to see them find their names too. I even included a boyfriend and a girlfriend of two of our kids, and will connect them to the tree at two weddings this year.
Relatives started writing on the tree, adding more information about spouses, and making spelling and other corrections. The wife of one cousin made a BIG correction. She told me the story of how her dad found out in his 60s or 70s that the man he thought was his father, and who died before he was born, was not his biological father. When he applied for a passport they couldn’t find his birth certificate. His older siblings finally gave him the name of his birth father, who had never married his mother. The birth father’s name was on the certificate, along with her Dad’s real surname. Her dad was so angry that he broke all contact with his half-siblings. No this cousin’s wife is trying to make contact with her first cousins not seen for years.
I’m hoping our kids will agree to let me display the tree at their weddings this year.
This past holiday weekend, I went to Charleston, South Carolina to visit with some family. Charleston is an amazing city, almost a living museum. The preservation laws do not allow for buildings to be torn down, so the city has a lot of history everywhere you turn.
I took a tour and my guide was a very charming native of South Carolina, named Randy Lee Hill. He was quite knowledgeable and entertaining; one of our stops was St. Philips Episcopal church. The church was first built in 1680, and is the burial site of Charles Pinckney, who was one of the signers of the Constitution and Edward Rutledge, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Also buried there, in the West Church yard across the street from the church, is John C Calhoun, a much revered statesman of South Carolina. During the Civil War his body was moved to the East Church Yard near the chapel because it was feared that Federal troops might desecrate it. Federal troops never did, and John C. Calhoun was returned to the West Church yard sometime later.
But why was he originally buried in the West Church yard and not church side? Because he was not a native born Charlestonian. Only native born Charlestonians were buried church side. Not even John C Calhoun who was much admired by South Carolinians was buried there.
So what does that mean from a genealogy point of view? If you know which side of the cemetery your ancestor was buried, you’d know if they were born in Charleston. Which of course, is valuable information. Knowing your history is not only interesting, it can answer a few genealogical questions at the same time!
Ask Ancestry Anne: A few genealogy resolutions for 2012
OK, it’s the middle of January, and I’ve pretty much blown all of my personal New Year’s resolutions. It never takes long with me!
So I’ll make some new ones for my genealogy research and see if I can be more successful there. And I shall be most interested to hear what your genealogy resolutions are as well.
Resolution #1: Try new ways of searching. It is so easy to get into a rut. Maybe you always start your searches from trees. Or from data collection pages. But if you do the same thing all the time, you might be missing something. When you are searching for something on a specific ancestor, you might want to start from:
Search Records from a tree page; this gathers everything you know about the person and searches with that information
Search from the home page or search page; try a minimal search with just names, birth year and birth location
Try searching with all of the exact filters set
Experiment with name filters and find which ones you feel most comfortable starting with
Start on Group page such as census or military. You will find them under the drop down for Search
Start on a data collection page and do a surname search.
Check the Card Catalog, set the sort order to Date Updated or Date Added and see what might be new and interesting
Make sure you check the place pages for the state you are researching (see the map at the bottom of the search page) and see what Ancestry.com has available.
Do a google search. Type first name, surname, state and the word genealogy into the search box and see what happens. Maybe nothing, but what if you do find something?
Start with Ancestry.com, we do have the largest collection of genealogy records and trees, but there are other sites. Make sure you exhaust every possibility.
Resolution #2: Aggressively pursue new theories and hunches. When I am not sure something is right, say someone’s parents, I have started creating a new tree, set it to private, and start testing my theory. Can I find records and possibly other trees to support my idea? And if it works, I sync the tree down to Family Tree Maker 2012 and then merge into my main tree. That way I don’t enter suspect information into my main tree until I feel good about.
Resolution #3: Communicate more. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. Places to look for those distant cousins:
Your message box on Ancestry.com. Somebody may already be trying to talk to you.
Look for other people who have your family lines in their trees and send them a message. Maybe if you pool your information you will find the right answer.
Add updates and corrections to transcriptions on records. Maybe somebody will see that you know something and reach out to you. And if someone has already done it, send them a note.
Check the message boards, both for locality and surname. And if you don’t find anything, post what you are looking for. Make sure you include everything you know.
Search for web pages about counties and surnames that you are researching and see if there is a comments section, or send an email to the owner of the site.
Resolution #4: Educate yourself. There are a lot of resources available on our site as well as other places that will help you know more about how to find your ancestors. There are many conferences and genealogical societies that can also help you learn more.
Check out Ancestry.com’s learning center and see if there is anything about what you are currently researching.
Check out Ancestry.com’s wiki and learn about the state and counties you are researching.
Watch a facebook presentation from Ancestry.com (subscribe to our facebook page) or check them out on our livestream page. Fifteen minutes spent with an expert may give you new ideas on how to research your Native American ancestor’s or get more out of the 1840 census.
Attend a conference. Rootstech (Salt Lake City), NGS (Cincinatti), FGS (Birmingham) and SoCal (Burbank) are the biggies, but there lots of smaller ones that might be closer. Hearing someone talk about a subject, might give you a new idea on what to try. And we will be livestreaming classes from the major conferences, so you don’t even have to leave home.
Read a book. You might be amazed at how many genealogy books your local library has or google books. And they don’t cost anything.
Read blogs. Lots of people write out this hobby of ours. Geneabloggers is a good resource to jfind blogs.
Looking over my list, I think I might do a better job of keeping this resolutions. J
Let me know what your resolutions are, I’m always looking for new ways to get better at this.
The year was 1871 and as the year opened in Europe, the city of Paris was under siege and defeat was approaching for the French in the Franco-Prussian War. The siege ended January 28, ten days after the formation of the German Empire, with the King of Prussia becoming the first German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I. The German government later that year became embroiled in a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in what was known as Kulturkampf.
In the United States, U.S. Grant was President, and was in fact re-elected in November. In April, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. Formed in 1866, in the wake of the Civil War, the Klan had been terrorizing African Americans, carpetbaggers (Northerners who went south during Reconstruction, typically for personal gain), and scalawags (Southerners who supported Reconstruction efforts). The legislation did not expand on civil rights, but rather allowed the government more power to act against these types of terrorist organizations (More information on this and other “Enforcement Acts” can be found at PBS.org.)
In New York City, the reign of William Marcy Tweed was ending as the "Boss" of New York’s Tammany Hall political machine. As Commissioner of Public Works for the city, he and his cronies fleeced the city and controlled city contracts. Exposed by the newspapers, and targeted by Thomas Nast, Tweed was arrested in New York on October 27.
Following a Midwest summer drought and a September in which less than an inch of rain fell, dry southwest winds blew into Chicago with temperatures for the first week in October ranging for the most part in the 70s and 80s. These dry conditions made the city of Chicago, a city built largely of wood, ripe for disaster. The first week had already seen many serious fires, and on Sunday, October 8, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 began in the barn behind Patrick O’Leary’s home at 137 (now 558 West) De Koven Street. The fire burned an area four and three-quarter miles long and around a mile wide, including the city’s central business district and nearly 100,000 people were left homeless.
The Chicago fire was actually one of four fires that were sparked that night near Lake Michigan. Fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and Holland and Manistee, Michigan also flared and spread quickly due to high winds. It is estimated that the Peshtigo fire killed as many as 2,500 people ranking it as the deadliest fire in U.S. history.
Ask Ancestry Anne: Is my great grandfather a Native American?
Question: I was told that my great grandfather was part native american. I don’t know what my great grand father’s name is or if this is true. He lived in Palestine, Tx.
Answer: Start with what you know, and work your way back. Is this your maternal or paternal great grandfather? Start researching his child and try and find who the man was. Gather every bit of information you can on your grandparent and his/her brothers and sisters. You never know which one may have a document that will lead you to the answer.
Also, Crista Cowan, aka The Barefoot Genealogist, has done a great facebook talk on researching your Native American history. Once you know your great grandfather’s name and a few more details, she has some great pointers for you to follow.
Ask Ancestry Anne: What do I do with conflicting dates?
Question: I’d like any advice you can give on criteria to consider which source citation to accept when several offer conflicting facts. It’s a general question, but my specific example is my gr-gr grandfather John Thomas. Here is what I have to select from as his birth year. None of these sources state a specific date, all are calculated from another event (e.g., death or census date).
County death record: 1828
1870 and 1875 census: 1815
1880 census: 1824
1885 census: 1821
1895 census: 1823
After using 1815 for years, I have recently changed and set the gravestone date as the preferred date and labeling the rest as alternate dates, but I’m starting to question that.
Any advice is appreciated.
Answer: To start with you may never know. His birth date seems to be all over the place in these documents. In some he and his wife Honora are the same age, sometimes John is older and sometimes John is older.
With a census, you never know who reported the information. It could be a neighbor, or a child who just was guessing or it may be the person in question. But maybe it was to their advantage to be older or younger at the time due to a pension or some other reason.
I saw the entry in the Drouin records but, there is no age listed. So no help that I could figure out there.
The tombstone implies 1820. The last Minnesota census, implies that he was born in 1823 and that he was 72 in 1895. On his tombstone it says he was 76 in 1896. I suspect two different people gave that information.
Other places to look:
Immigration records. He appears he immigrated from Ireland to Canada to the US. Maybe you can find something there.
Actual marriage record. Maybe his age is listed there.
Look carefully at his children’s ages. Do they vary from census to census? Is there one that looks like somebody got the ages right? Maybe that is his correct age.
Because of the wide variation, I’m not sure you are ever going to feel 100% confident unless you can find a birth record, which may be a challenge in Ireland.
I don’t think it is a bad thing to go with the tombstone as your default. You would assume that whoever had that inscribed wanted it to be correct.
A distant cousin connected with me because of a query I posted on a message board. He had several pictures that he emailed to me, one of which was of my great-grandmother’s wedding picture with her second husband. He has the original pictures and he scanned them with the original cardboard frame.
I am so grateful that he did not crop out the frame, because on the corner of the frame in faded lettering was the name and the city of the studio where the picture was taken. I called him to thank him for the pictures and I asked him where the marriage took place. He did not know but thought it was probably in Wisconsin or Minnesota because they were both from Minnesota and they had ties to Wisconsin. I had always thought the same thing.
As we were talking I looked closer at the scanned picture and saw the studio information which listed its location as Spokane. We talked about that clue and as I was talking I went to the Washington State Digital Archives website and it took me less than three minutes to find the image of the marriage record. Neither of us had thought to look in Washington State. The marriage record listed the bride under her previously married name and it listed the parents of both the bride and groom, the place of birth of the bride and groom and each of the parents. It also gave the middle names of both the bride and groom. (I had not known her middle name before.) Given the location for the wedding, I was able to use Google Maps to see a picture of the Lutheran Church where they married and the parsonage where the minister lived.
Moral of the story, don’t crop out the clues in your pictures or on their frames.
Along with Crista Cowan, you know her as the Barefoot Genealogist, I will be teaching a class 5 new Things to Try at Ancestry.com on Feb 3rd at 1:45 in room 155.
You might think about attending What does it take to get a good result? The inner-workings of the Ancestry.com search engine which will be taught by John Bacus at 3pm on February 3rd at 3:00 in room 255F.
These will also be livestreamed if you can’t be at the conference, stay tuned for details.
We will also be do short demos with question and answer sessions in our booth. Check the booth to get times and subjects. I will be working the booth at least half the day on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
Ask Ancestry Anne: Children mysteriously appearing
Question: While researching my family at the turn of the century, I’ve come across an interesting discrepancy. I’ve found my great-great-grandparents in both the 1900 and 1910 censuses, but the 1910 census includes three teenage sons who were not included on the 1900 census. I can think of several theories as to why this might be—they might be orphaned nephews taken in by their aunt and uncle, for example, or the young boys were living with a nearby relative in 1900 for some reason—but I’m at a loss as to how to begin working through this problem. How should I approach this mystery?
Answer: I’ve run across a few census records like this, and they do present some interesting problems, don’t they?
Does the 1910 record list them as “sons” or is it some other relationship?
Here are some ideas for what to do next:
In the 1910 census, in columns 10 and 11, it lists the number of children the woman in the household has had and how many are living. Does it add up to include these children?
The 1900 census lists the same thing in columns 11 and 12. Do these numbers match what they should in 1910? Do the numbers match the 1910?
Can you find birth, marriage or death records for these new children? Some vital records will list the parents. However, remember the further away a record is from the actual event, the less accurate the information may be.
Check the brothers and sisters of the parents in this family; specifically in 1900 census. Do you see names that might match these children? Did the brother/sister die in the period between 1900/1910. If you get desperate, you might try cousins as well. Neighbors in 1900 might be another way to go.
Are there adoption records for that area in that time period?
Try searching the 1900 census in that specific town or county with the age of the child and just the first name entered. Do you find anyone that might be the right person? (It’s a long shot.)
Look at the WWII draft registration cards; they might mention a parent.
Search for obituaries and or wills for the parents. Are the children listed? Maybe their status is referenced.
Are any of these children living with these parents in the 1920 census? What is the relationship to the head of the household?
This is a tough one; but somewhere the answer is out there.
Ask Ancestry Anne: How do I know what records I can find for my ancestor?
Question: How do I know what records I can find for my ancestor?
Answer: When searching for information on your ancestors in the US, it is important to remember that each state recorded information differently, and the way they record information and what they recorded tended to change over time.
The first page gives you a brief history of the state.
On the right hand side, you’ll see a list of pages specific to different types of records:
One of the most common questions I get is, “Why can’t I find a birth record, or marriage record for my ancestor?” Well, it may not exist. Make sure you check out the Vital Records to see when certain events wererecorded.
If you look at the Kentucky Vital Records page, you’ll discover that vitals were sporadically recorded over time. So if you can’t find that birth record that should exist for your ancestor in 1881, it maybe because it wasn’t recorded.
The list on the right hand side, gives you a good overview of other types of records you may want to find.
Sometimes we forget to go beyond the census and vital records. Land, Probate, and Court records can have a wealth of details about dates as well as interesting information about what our ancestor’s were upto.
Question: What does the letters WFT mean, I see them next to death dates on ancestry public family trees.
Answer: I admit it, I had to do a little looking to find this one. World Family Tree was a product created by Broderbund and sold on CD’s which had family trees on it. They would estimate dates for vital events and mark them as WFT est.
Question: I have found my husband’s great-great-grandfather in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses in Virginia. But because the 1840 census only lists head of household – and because I don’t know his father’s name – I am stuck. My great-great-great-grandfather is George Johnston; he was born July 13, 1805 in Prince William County, Virginia. He died on March 8, 1874 in Page County, Virginia. So far I haven’t been able to find a marriage record that would give parents’ names. What should my next step be?
— Anna Marie Johnston
Answer: I think I found your George Johnston in the 1850 census, in Shenandoah, Virginia. (If this isn’t your George, he’ll work as our example. J)
You’ll notice that there are two children, a 16-year-old and a 19-year old, listed living in the household. I would guess that George and Sarah may have been married around 1830, so George is probably in the 1840 census as well, although finding him may be a little tricky if he’s not the head of his household.
You’re right – finding a marriage certificate could help quite a bit. And it’s possible that you will be able to find one; however in the time period you are probably looking at, parents were not often included unless the people getting married were not of age. But if you can’t you may want to try to locate a death certificate instead. Ancestry.com has a great collection of these for Virginia.
Other routes you may want to pursue include:
Locate a Sons of the American Revolution membership packet for a family member of George or Sarah. George may not be related to a revolutionary war soldier but it is always worth a try. And it is a goldmine if you find the right one.
2. Focus on the children. It’s easier to find info the closer it is to present day. Take George and Sarah’s 1850 census and follow their children forward, locating marriage and death certificates for them, too. Any of these may hold clues that will help you find George’s marriage certificate or another useful document.
Search for Sarah. Finding her death certificate may give you her maiden name. Use this info to locate her parents in earlier censuses, before she was marriage to George. You may find that a family with her maiden name lived very close to a family of Johnstons that match the specs of George’s family (see more about this below).
Note that if you do find a marriage certificate for George and Sarah, it may lead you to the earliest census record you’ll find him listed in by name. If, however, he was married in 1830 AFTER the census was taken, you may still be searching for him and for Sarah using their parents’ name instead.
Regardless, the marriage certificate should include the name of a county – use that in the 1830 or 1820 census to search for all Johnstons (and Johnsons since I imagine the name is recorded both ways) in that county. Identify all the matching households that have a male child in 1820 that might have been born around 1805. The 1820 census has a column for males between 10 and 15, and one for males between 16 and 18. Do the same with Sarah’s maiden name, if provided, and see if you can create a match.
With the holidays in full swing, and Christmas only a day away, I’m sure everyone is preparing their home for a festive holiday, or possibly traveling to spend time with friends and family afar. Either way, the holidays are a time when we think of family, how important they are in our to us, and cherish the time we get to spend with everyone.
At Ancestry.com, we want to wish you and your family a Happy Holidays, and want to let you know that in 2012, we have some really exciting releases coming, including the countdown to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Both the images and indexes to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census will be made free to search, browse, and explore in the United States when this important collection commences streaming onto the website in mid-April 2012.
When complete, more than 3.8 million original document images containing 130 million plus records will be available to search by more than 45 fields, including name, gender, race, street address, county and state. It will be Ancestry.com’s most comprehensively indexed set of historical records to date.
Ancestry.com is committing to make the 1940 Census free from release through to the end of 2013, and by doing so hopes to help more people get started exploring their family history. As this census will be the most recent to be made publicly available, it represents the best chance for those new to family history to make that all-important first discovery.
And we also know that you might have some last minute shopping that needs to get done, and we want to help you give the gift of family this year. You don’t have to be the jolly guy in red to be a master gift giver. Just get someone special an Ancestry.com Gift Membership, and you’ll give them something truly magical – a way to discover their family story. They’re easy to give and easy to use. The lucky person who receives a Gift Membership can do all this and more.
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I had searched the UK records, without success, for the marriage of my great grandfather Samuel Drew to Jane Harris. My father, uncle, aunt could throw no light on the matter. Great grandfather’s stepmother had written in the family “register” that “Samuel Drew left for a ferran land 7th April 1867”. The ship leaving that day for America was the North American, and on the passenger list were “Samuel Drew, 22, Miner” and “Jane Drew, 21, Spinster”. Why did she travel as a spinster if she was already married? Aha! She wasn’t. Eventually, Ancestry made the Maine marriage records available for viewing, and there they were. Married 26 June 1867 by a Justice of the Peace (JM Heath) in Portland, Maine.
So, they had eloped and traveled to the New World as brother and sister, a fact hidden from their descendants until just recently.
— story submitted by Ancestry member Geoff Drew. By the way, Geoff would love to find the couple leaving America for England (with 5 children) in 1885. Post a comment through the link above if you happen to discover it!
I thought you might like to know of my ‘discovery’ of a ‘missing’ brother (James Babington) of my Irish great grandfather George Babington (1826-1901) thanks to this James Babington’s dealings with the Victoria, Australia bush-ranger Ned Kelly. The story in my Babington family is that my great grandfather George and a brother named James had planned to go to Australia in about the mid 19th century. The lads mother, a Mary Levens in family lore, was not happy with the prospect of ‘losing’ two sons so George stayed in Ireland (in 1885 George and his family went to Canada) and James went to Australia. No one in the current family knew what had happened to this James Babington, let alone if he had made it to Australia. A few years ago I posted an inquiry to the Australia General message board at Ancestry about this ‘missing’ James Babington, never expecting to receive a reply. About a year after posting my inquiry concerning James Babington I received a reply that helped me ‘find’ the missing James Babington. The person who responded asked if I was aware of a Victoria, Australia Police Sergeant James Babington included in a book entitled “The Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia”. When my correspondent at Ancestry said this book included the following I knew I had found the ‘missing’ James Babington: “BABINGTON, JAMES 1832/3/3-1881 … James Babington was born in County Monaghan, the son of John Babington and Mary (nee Levens).”. The reason why this James Babington is included in this book on Ned Kelly is because the only existing letter in Ned Kelly’s own hand is 28 July 1870 letter to Victoria Police Sergeant James Babington. Thanks to my post at Ancestry concerning James Babington I have discovered more about what happened to James Babington, his wife, and children in Australia. It turns out James Babington was no doubt lost to the current generation of my family in Ireland, Canada, and in the USA because none of James Babington’s children in Australia married or had children. I have published an account of my finding the ‘missing’ James Babington in Australia in an issue of the magazine IRISH ROOTS about three years ago.
I’ve being searching for my ancestors now for 31 years, and with the help of Ancestry. the past 4-5 years. A cousin in Moline IL found me searching the family in the US and Can. She never knew what she was in for. Here in Belgium most people get back in history to Napoleon years, then it stops. Well I did got a little bit further. My root father and here mothers line of the family,was married in 1625 In Bruges, Belgium
Adrianus Fools X Anna De Pape he was 30 years old. so that puts him born in 1595. Now if that was not enough she asked on here fathers side to have a look over here in Belgium, because that whas where he came from. She had a Frank Goossens, and no community here could find him.. He was born Franciscus.. so the story continued. And a friend found his three also back to the 1600… That is what Ancestry could do for people searching people…
Thanks Toby for the 2012 version and all the US updates. Werner Vols
Someone posted my great grandfather’s death certificate on ancestry.com a couple of months ago. I have been to Arkansas and Baton Rouge trying to find information on him after he divorced my great grandmother in 1904. Still not sure if he had other descendents but this is great info!
I never knew exactly when my paternal grandparents were married. All I had ever seen was 1906 in San Francisco, CA. I knew that my dad had been born 7/15/1907 in San Francisco, CA, but never had a birth certificate for him.
Last year my sons got my husband and I round trip tickets and a weeks accomodations in San Francisco for my 65th birthday. We went this past April and I started searching for any information I could find. First I went in search of my dad’s birth certificate, but I had no luck. I wasn’t too surprised because during that time many children were born at home and not in a hospital and frequently the births were not recorded. I had that happen on my mom, so I didn’t think too much of it when I didn’t find dads. Next I started looking for a marriage license for my grandparents. I searched in 1906 and found nothing, so I looked for brides since my maiden name starts with an M and that is the most common start for a last name. Lo and behold, I found it, but not in 1906 as I thought. They were married on my birthday (June 13th), but in 1907, not 1906. I guess that is why my grandmother would never say exactly when they were married. It was not in either her or his obituary. I’m sure she must have taken a lot of grief over that as it was not very common in those days. I wonder what she must have thought when I was born all those years later on the date of her wedding, but she couldn’t say a word.
I look forward to seeing her again one day and tell her I know the truth, but perhaps she already knows.
Ask Ancestry Anne: Just Because It Looks Wrong, Doesn't Mean You Shouldn't Look
I was doing a bit of research for a friend on an ancestor named Amos Owens. He was born in Rutherford, North Carolina, about 1821, and he died there in 1906. All of his census records are in Rutherford, but I couldn’t find one for him there in 1880.
One result did pop up for him, but the residence, was Albany, New York. It just didn’t seem right. But a negative fine is just as important as a positive find, so I took a look:
He was a prisoner in the Albany County Penitentiary. Turns out Amos made more than a bit of moonshine in North Carolina.
Always look in the expected places first. But if those don’t pan out, start to open your search. You just never know what might be hiding in your family tree. :-)
My late grandmother Eleanor Agnes Fazzone Stanton, she of the bird legs and long nose I inherited, was born on December 7, 1914. A day that would eventually live in infamy. Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt exhorted Americans that they had nothing to fear but fear itself.
Nana encouraged a similar fearlessness in me, particularly in the dozens of letters she wrote me every year of my life. Until those final years when dementia crept in and then soon cloaked the spry nana that I once knew. Friends and the verses of songs stayed wrapped around her mind’s spindle, but her awareness of the present came completely unspooled.
Her handwriting started to look wobbly. The letters she sent decreased in frequency, the inside containing a pre-printed message, signed with her wobbly name.
I pulled away. I made no effort to visit her after she fell and broke her hip and spent months recovering in the hospital. She moved in with my uncle. Occasionally I sent letters with pictures of my daughter. I feared seeing her, I feared the feelings of helplessness that would accompany seeing her. I could not help this frail woman who had sat with me watching daytime television and making me tea when I was home from school, vomiting into buckets.
I wanted to cryogenically freeze my memories of her and let time do no harm to my impression of Nana.
I eventually got over myself. I went to visit her twice before she passed away. She sat in the living room of my uncle’s home where she smiled sweetly and nodded her head at my baby and occasionally hummed songs from memory. The final moments of happiness for my 94 year-old grandmother, crystallized by my six month-old daughter.
*** Two years later I was watching the ancestry program “Who Do You Think You Are?”. The celebrity accounts moved me in a way that reality television never does. The star’s searches netted them personal interviews with distant relatives, visits to slave plantations and European cemeteries. And while we cannot all finance a DNA consult with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., something they all seemed to echo about newfound identity –ascertaining who one was in the context of ancestry—spoke to me.
I had always desired the standard-issue answers about my stock: places of origin, dates, names, jobs, from where I inherited this impossibly round chin. I wanted to mine the raw facts, unmuddled by oral tradition, unsullied by personal agendas. I sought the hard documents, whatever public record could offer me, anything that had not been lost in translation.
So I joined Ancestry.com like the program touted, and my digital dig began. The initial phase of my search was rapid. Cousins once and twice-removed had already paved some of the way for my search. The software will gamely connect names and dates and relationships based largely on census records, and within a few days I had connected more than a few stars in my family’s constellation.
But the thing about geneology is that the grid of names and dates is never enough. I hungered for an artifact, some small piece d’ resistance that could speak volumes about whatever it was I was supposed to learn about my family and myself.
There was a romance to excavating all the pieces, even from the online archives. My search expanded. I e-mailed with distant cousins whom I’d never met, whom I may still never meet. I foraged through the Latter-Day Saints’ database. I purchased memberships to newspaper archives. The weeks turned into months, and my desk turned into a rat’s nest made of scraps of paper with family tree branches scrawled on both sides.
As my family tree solidified, two things became abundantly clear: That which I could find would surprise me. That which I couldn’t find would not. I learned that search entries were not always so cut and dry. Census takers estimated ages. Newspapers fudged facts. My grandmother forged her maiden name.
When I found my Nana’s perfect Catholic schoolgirl penmanship lopping off the whole second half of her maiden name on her marriage license and then again on the affidavit for the county records, I felt the weight of her secret. Did she fear discrimination of her Italian surname when she married in Kansas City, Missouri in the early 1940s? Was she trying to create a new identity as she settled with my grandfather in Nashville, TN. Had she already disinherited her late father, whom I also learned my great grandmother attempted to divorce for “cruel and barbarous treatment” per another snippet from the New Castle News?
As the oldest of my siblings and cousins, I have always stood at the edge of the forest where the mighty trees are established or felled, and where the little saplings are trying to take root. There is never a steady rain of information from the canopy, only sporadic droplets of memories and news that I work hard to shield from my siblings and cousins when I am able.
I thought tracing my family roots would allow me to finally funnel all those droplets from the canopy above. Instead of being a passive reception, though, it became more of an exercise of writing a love letter to the ones I would come to know through the archives, and to those that would read what I had exhumed. Dear Family of the Past. I don’t know what kind of stunts you pulled, but you’re interesting and I love you. Thank you for making it possible for me to be here, learning about you. Dear Family of the Present and Future. Thanks for understanding my need to figure all this out. I’m getting closer. I hope you are, too.
As Pearl Harbor Day passes again this year, F.D.R.’S words echo resoundingly against fear as we approach our future, but also as we engage the stories of our past, personal, public, or otherwise. The ink that penned these stories might be difficult to decipher, but the messages of love and fearlessness are unmistakable.
My Dad, Whit Criswell Bryan, was proud of his service in the Navy. A Chief Petty Officer (HMC), he was a veteran of three wars and a Pearl Harbor survivor. Dad was a pharmacist mate stationed at Mobile Naval Hospital #2 about 800 feet above Pearl Harbor on Aiea Heights. He arrived at the Mobile Naval Hospital #2 on December 1, 1941 where all of the medical staff was charged with building the hospital.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor began, Dad was delivering newspapers for a friend who had a paper route. He had driven the friend’s car and was at a top of a hill when he saw the planes. He watched, first thinking that they were US planes, but, when the bombing occurred, he left the car and ran back to the hospital. From the hill, he could see into the cockpits of the Japanese planes.
The hospital was only half finished on the day of the attack. Shrapnel fired upon the hospital was the result of friendly fire. One sailor was killed as they watched the attack. Much of the hospital equipment was still crated. Beds were taken out of the crates and set up as a roofless hospital in minutes. The completed barracks was used for injured patients and the staff slept outside in ditches.
Whit Criswell Bryan remained in the Navy until 1969, serving for 29 years.
Jackson Parker Centers, my dad, was born in 1918, and joined the US Navy in 1937. He was first assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, and was still aboard when the ship was tied at Pearl. Dad didn’t speak much about the attack because he lost many friends aboard, but what he did say, enhanced by news articles and military records speak much about the man who was my father.
He had just finished breakfast and was relaxing in his bunk when the alarm of the attack blared out. Apparently it was not the standard “This is not a drill,” because he would never assault his daughter’s innocent ears with exactly what was said. The first thing he did do was go to his locker to grab a pack of cigarettes. Then while running to his station he was startled to see a torpedo heading midship.
There were five men at his station when the Oklahoma was dealt her fatal blow and the ship turned upside down looking to all viewing from above like a beached whale. The men fought to climb up to the bottom of the ship for the water line and available air, having to wrench open the heavy metal doors to get there. For two days, up to their necks in water and oil they fought for survival. My dad had taken off his belt and used the buckle to pound on the inside of the hull to alert those on the outside of their whereabouts. Finally, on Tuesday morning, December 2, 1941, at approximately 2:30 in the morning, hearing my dad’s banging, men in a passing boat found the men. They were cut out of the hull by the light of the burning Arizona. And I am told, a torch could not be used because it could set fire to the oil in the water, so another method was use. Unfortunately, by the time they were able to reach the men, only two of the five remained alive, my dad and a mate. Dad was the last of only 32 survivors from the USS Oklahoma.
The folks at home had no idea of dad’s fate for about six weeks. He went from the Oklahoma to the military hospital for an unknown length of time. His girlfriend, my mother, and his dad checked frequently at the local post office for any news.
In 1943, after Mom finally agreed to marry dad, they became one when he was on military leave that year. Dad lived to fight other close calls in that war. I was born in 1947.
I can’t imagine the horror it must have felt like to be 23 years old, sinking with your ship and the struggle to survive, men dying around you. I don’t know if I could have handled it. But it gave dad the philosophy that each new day of life was a gift. Dad passed in 1993.
Thank you to all veterans of all wars who fight to preserve our blessed way of life
My son joined the Navy in 1989. In 1991, the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I asked my uncle — who had been there — to write a memoir of the event for my son. This is what my uncle had to say about December 7, 1941.
written by Carroll Joseph Oliver, USN, Retired (The Oliver family lived in Haddonfield, New Jersey; “Uncle Ollie” was born October 10, 1919.)
I enlised in the Navy on February 1, 1937. I was 18 years old. I was trained to be a shipfitter and the first ship I was stationed on was the West Virginia. I was then transferred to the Pennsylvania.
December 7 began like any other Sunday morning: I got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and left my ship, the Pennsylvania, for the Block Recreation Center, where we were going to hear Mass. When I got there, the stage was set up for Mass. Suddenly the Chaplain ran out onto the stage and hollered that everyone should immediately return to their ship or station. We didn’t know what was going on, and I hung around for a few minutes before going outside. When I got outside, I could see the Jap planes coming over from Hickam Field. They were strafing everyone who was running back towards the Fleet Landing and Receiving Station. I waited a few minutes, then started running myself. Excuse the comparison, but Jesse Owens would be put to shame the way I ran. I passed quite a few sailors, their white uniforms torn and bloody, lying dead on the sidewalk. I saw men with all different types of guns on the roof of the Receiving Station firing away at the oncoming planes. I somehow made it to the Receiving Station and to the officer’s living area (where the officers had their homes). This whole area had been bombed, and I thought a few bombs had been dropped right in front of the admiral’s house.
I crawled into a large storm pipe (the pipe that carried away run-off rain water) that extended on either side of the drive that circled the area. I kept crawling through this pipe to the end and saw Mr. Ensign Arnold, who was an officer on the Pennsy. I have to laugh about it now, because the situation was so desperate, and there he was with the back seam of his khaki pants split open. He and I continued running towards the Pennsy. Our ship was in dry dock. At this point, the air around the harbor was actually black from the shots being fired at the enemy planes. In the harbor itself, I could see the USS Oklahome turning over, with her bottom pointed towards the sky.
When I got to the Pennsy, I immediately reported to my battle station which was under the armoured deck. I believe the deck itself was about six inches thick. Before I had gotten back to the ship, the Pennsy had been hit with a 500 pound aerial bomb, killing many of my shipmates. Repairs began immediately and we had to bypass the broken piping. This was necessary becuse the bomb had severed all the pipes that had supplied the Pennsy with water. Our repair officer gave me and three other shipfitters orders to make immediate arrangements to place submersible pumps out and over the caisson to get water for fire fighting, machinery, guns, etc.
Because there had been a change of plans, the Pennsy was moved out of dry dock, and the USS Cassin and USS Downs were placed forward in the dry dock and then they put the Pennsy back in. The two destroyers who were with us (Cassin and Downs) as well as the Pennsy were back up on blocks. I myself think this move saved the Pennsy, because after being in dry dock the Pennsy would have been moved back over to Battleship Row on December 6.
While we worked frantically making repairs, the hospital corpsmen were removing the dead and taking care of the wounded. It was a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno. Lt. Commander Craig was the head of my repair department. I believe he was the only officer from the Pennsy killed on December 7. When the attack began, he was on the dry dock wall checking the utilities: steam, water and air. All three of these are needed for the machinery, etc. on board the ship. Fresh water and harbor water were much needed for fire fighting. That was the purpose of our going on the dry dock caisson: to get water aboard.
Hours later, when we finally did secure from general quarters, I returned to my living space and locker, still wearing my whites. You can imagine what condition they were in. If I remember correctly, I threw them away. My most vivid memory of the attack was the condition of our living space. There had been many dead and wounded in a collecting station nearby, and the angle iron (similar to a baseboard) caused all the blood to drain onto the deck of our living space. There must have been two inches of blood on the deck. I was then a young man at the time and my appetite was gone for quite a few days afterwards. To this day I cannot erase that scene from my memory. I knew everyone from the Pennsy who was killed on December 7, but on board ship you go ashore with other men from the same division.
This may sound funny, but believe me, at the time I jumped about ten feet in the air. In our ship area we kept our bedding and cots in what the Navy calls ‘hammock netting.’ In some division, they were outboard in the living compartments and they just dropped canvas over them, but in the shipfitter’s shop, ours were heavy galvanized metal. Someone went to get his bedding and cot and dropped the cover. It sounded like another bomb going off and everyone in the area was ready for general quarters all over again.
We got the Pennsy squared away in just a few weeks and left for San Francisco. When we arrived in San Francisco, I believe it was New Year’s Eve. I left the Pennsy in 1943 after being in the Aleutian Islands. The Bering Sea surrounding the Aleutian Islands is the roughest water I’ve ever sailed on.
The bell from the Pennsy was on display and the ship’s silverware was used for the Officer’s Ward Room Mess on the new Pennsy, which is a nuke sub. The ship’s bell from the USS Cassin is in the Navy Reserve Building in the shipyard at Philadelphia. Both of these destroyers were scrpped after they salvaged what could be used on other ships like them or in the same class.