Context is Key: Understanding the Record within the Record Collection

Records don’t exist in a vacuum. (For the purposes of this post, I am referring to microfilmed images of records we have located online). It’s important to understand the record in terms of the collection it’s found in. Once we’ve located a record, we need to ask ourselves questions about the record and the collection. Questions such as:

Who created this collection?
Does my record fit in this collection?
Is there anything unusual about my record that other records in the collection don’t have?
Is something missing that should be there?
Is the record an original or a copy?
Are there gaps in this collection?
Does the collection have an index and if it does, was the index created at the same time as the record?

We can answer those questions in two ways:

First, by studying our record image and the images that come before it and after it on the microfilm. We can compare handwriting – is it all the same in the collection (indicating perhaps a clerk copied the information from elsewhere)? Have we gone to the beginning of the film (or the beginning of the Item number on the film) and studied any images that may appear of the book cover that our record comes from? As we do so, we gather information which helps us place our record in context.

Second, we can study the collection description, which is what this post focuses on.

Where to find collection descriptions?

A quick example using Ancestry

One of the results in a search for Patty Dawley, born about 1771 in Vermont, is a death record.

Context 1

The top red arrow in the image above points to the title of the collection that the record is found in. In this example, the record is in Ancestry’s collection titled, ‘Vermont, Vital Records, 1720-1908’. The red arrow in the middle gives us further source information on the collection, including where the original data came from and which repository was responsible for first compiling the collection.

The red arrow toward the bottom points to the description of the collection and this is where Ancestry does a decent job of describing the collection further. Click on the Learn more… in the blue circle and a page will appear with a search box at the top, allowing you to search only within this collection. But page down, past the Source Information we just saw on the previous page. Here we are given more information (see image below) about the collection, including a brief history of when vital records were kept in Vermont, when the law came into being which dictated the keeping of those vital records and the availability of the records. Any known gaps in the records are also given. All of this information helps us to place into context our specific record. Perhaps even more than that, the description of the collection allows us to determine whether a record we are seeking exists in this particular collection.

Context 2

Another example using FamilySearch

Familysearch.org offers excellent descriptions of its record collections. Begin here at the Category: FamilySearch Historical Records Published Collections. This is an alphabetical listing of all the FamilySearch historical record collections (only the published ones). Find the collection you are interested in and click on the link provided. We’ll use the Arizona Marriages collection as an example:

Context 3
Image showing Category: FamilySearch Historical Records Published Collections

 

Context 4
Image showing Arizona Marriages collection description within the FamilySearch Historical Records Collection

There is a wealth of information on the individual collection page. The red arrow above points to the Contents of the page.  Of great importance is the general collection description which states that this is an index only collection so we will not find images of the actual marriage documents here. There is a coverage table and map showing which counties are covered by this index. There is information on what to do if you are unable to find your ancestor in the collection. The blue arrow points to the ability to access and search the collection from this page.

When we understand the record collection, we are better able to understand our specific record. Genealogists consider the weight of evidence in each document they use. Understanding why and how that document was created aids in being able to effectively weigh the evidence the document provides.

As important as it is to understand the collection our record is in, it is equally important to understand the laws at the time the record was created. Next week’s post will focus on how the laws of the time influenced the records created by our ancestors.

Locating Original Records for ‘Text Only’ Indexes on Ancestry

We’ve all seen them. Those Ancestry search results that pop up with a few details but without an image attached. They provide tantalizing bits of information but thorough researchers know that they need to find the original record, if at all possible.

Index
Image from Ancestry.com

These ‘Text-only’ collections can often be used as a finding aid to the original record. I was surprised to learn how many people don’t realize that there is another, more important, step to take.  The clue is in the FHL film number given.

Index arrow

This is where we head over to Familysearch.org and using the top menu, hover our cursor over Search. A drop-down menu appears, and we select Catalog. A search page appears with various search options. We want to search by Film/Fiche Number.

Index Catalog
Image from Familysearch.org

Click on Film/Fiche Number and enter the FHL film number which you located on the Ancestry ‘Text-only’ record. Familysearch.org displays a list of the microfilm/s with that number and which contain the original records.

Index Films

The information we found on the ‘Text-only’ record tell us that the birth date of the Craft child in question was 17 October 1883. We can see in the image above that the first film covers birth registers for the years 1880-1913, and this is where we will find the original record. Once we click on that film, we are given a screen which displays the Film/Digital Notes.

Index film notes

The second entry shows us it is for the Register of births, no. 1-2 1880-1900 and we are in luck, as a small camera icon is displayed. This means that the film is available to browse online. Clicking on that camera icon will take you to the original microfilmed images and it is a matter of navigating through the film to 17 October 1883 to find the entry for the child. Always take note of the Item number/s on the film (in this case, Items 2-3) as they will guide you to where those records begin.

Tip: You may be tempted to click on the magnifying glass icon shown in the image above as this indicates a link to a Familysearch index. But be warned, if you do so, you will find yourself looking at the indexed entry again with no image.

Index May

Having the original record in our hands, we might think we have completed our research with this film. But here is another tip … if the film also contains an index to the registers, it is always worth searching it! Going back to those film notes, we can see that this film does contain images of the original Indexes to the Register of Births.

Index film notes green

This is how I discovered a previously unknown child. By searching the microfilmed indexes under C for Craft (and knowing that this family remained in the same place for several years), I was able to confirm all the births of the known children. However, I found one more entry in that Index to Register of Births  for a child that I had no knowledge of.

Index Unknown

By going back to the film and navigating to entry 2501 in Book 1, page 192 as was shown on the Index to the Register of Births, I was able to find a male child (unnamed at the time) born 8 January 1894. This child must have died as an infant as he does not appear in any further records for this family.

Index Craft child

My tips:

  • Sound genealogical research means we should always try to locate the original record from an indexed entry.
  • If searching on Ancestry.com (or anywhere else) and you find a FHL (Family History Library) film number, head to Familysearch.org and locate that film. If you are lucky, it will be available to view online.
  • Always check the Index to a Register, if filmed, for the name you are researching.

 

Trails to Roads: Down the Atlantic Seaboard

As colonists began settling along the eastern seaboard in the late 1660s and early 1700s, they realized the need for accessible routes between those settlements. Trails used by the local Indian tribes were the first means of getting from one place to another. These trails often followed the natural landscape, moving through the region’s river valleys. As more people flowed into the area and settled, the need for a regular mail route also became apparent. Postal trails developed where the Indian trails were and later became roads for wagons and stagecoaches as people began to move down the Atlantic coast.

Migration Stagecoach
Stagecoach, possibly Adirondack Mountains, N.Y., or White Mountains, N.H. Image from Library of Congress, no known restrictions on publication.

By 1750, the King’s Highway, a stretch of road about 1,300 miles long, from Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina, was built. It carried people as they settled new areas or used the road to take their goods to sell at markets further away.

The building of the King’s Highway was originally a request in 1664 from England’s King Charles II for a road between Boston and New York City. The King’s Highway was also known as the Boston Post Road, the Great Coastal Road, the Potomac Trail or the Charleston-Savannah Trail. By the time the American Revolutionary War began, the name The King’s Highway had fallen out of favor, although the road was often used by both sides.

Migration King's_Highway_map
King’s Highway Map. Image from Familysearch.org.

 

The Boston Post Road is known as the oldest land trail and was used to carry the first mail. That first trip, made in 1673, took about 4 weeks to cover 250 miles. In the beginning, post riders carried the mail by horse on the small trails created by the Indians of the area. Theirs was a hazardous job, made difficult by frequent snow storms in the winter, summer heat, and spring rains turning the road into muddy swamps. Later, the road was widened to allow for stagecoaches and horse-drawn wagons. And later still, turnpike companies took over and began to improve small pieces of the road.

Do you have ancestors who moved down the eastern seaboard? Does their journey follow closely the known trails and roads of the time?

Why it’s important to learn about migration routes

Migration patterns influenced our ancestors more than we might first imagine. The decisions they made to move to a new location were influenced by the climate, geography and migration routes known of at the time. Water ways provided the quickest method of transportation before roads and railways. Canals made it easier to reach areas further inland and brought families to the villages and towns springing up near the canals.

Knowledge of geography, history and transportation will help in understanding why our ancestors settled where they did and why they may have moved on when they did. Start at the end…that is, start with the last place you find your family and work backwards, following each move. Create a list of each location and learn about the geography and history of the area. As your ancestor moved, he may have generated records in areas that you may not have thought to search in. Timelines are a great way to plot the dates and places you find your family in. They will easily show the gaps in time where you may have ‘lost’ your family. Knowing the migration routes of the area may help you find them again.

 

 

We Have a Winner of a RootsTech 2019 4-day Pass!

RootsTech-winner

Serving as a RootsTech 2019 Ambassador means that I had the opportunity to give away one complimentary 4-day pass to RootsTech 2019. This morning I hit the ‘find me a random winner’ button on Rafflecopter and the winner is …. John Boeren!

John is a professional genealogist, based in the Netherlands, and owner of Antecedentia. His research focus is the Netherlands although most of his clients are based in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.  You can check out his site here.

Congratulations, John! Looking forward to seeing you at RootsTech 2019!

RootsTech 2019: Over 30 Classes on DNA!

DNA

RootsTech is always on the cutting edge of what’s new in genealogy. Look back at RootsTech 2018 and see the emphasis on DNA from Angie Bush’s presentation “You’ve Taken a DNA test, Now What?” to Diane Southard and Lisa Louise Cooke’s, “A DNA Match with No Tree? No Problem!”. DNA is a hot topic these days and RootsTech never fails to keep up by  providing a rich variety of classes and labs focused on using DNA in our research.

RootsTech 2019 offers over 30 classes/labs on DNA!

I took a look at the 2019 conference schedule found here (it’s a tentative schedule so subject to change) and used the search box on the left of the page to only look for sessions or labs on DNA. There are over 30 different classes or labs on some aspect of DNA! That’s an incredible resource for anyone looking to learn more about how to use their DNA results. There are classes tailored to all levels of difficulty from beginners to advanced.  There are classes on which DNA tests are available and which ones to use depending on your goals, classes on using third-party tools like GEDMatch and DNAPainter, classes and labs on techniques such as using your shared matches, visual phasing, chromosome mapping, and creating a DNA triangulation table. There are classes on analyzing Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA and classes dealing with endogamy. Whichever aspect of DNA you are interested in, there is likely a class or lab at RootsTech 2019 that will address that!

Why the emphasis on DNA?

On 28 October 2018, the Board for Certification of Genealogists came out with new standards regarding the use of DNA as another form of evidence in our research. More information can be found here. DNA results go hand in hand with other evidence in the forming of any conclusions we make. You may not be a professional genealogist or hold a credential but thorough researchers know that good, in-depth research means you look everywhere and you use everything that may help in providing an answer to your research question.  DNA evidence can be part of that reasonably exhaustive search.

RootsTech 2019 will be a great way to gain more education on exactly when and how to use DNA, in conjunction with documentary evidence, to answer that stubborn research question you may have.

*Don’t forget to visit the Expo Hall in between all your DNA classes to take advantage of the special prices on DNA kits. Every year that I’ve attended RootsTech (this will be my 5th year!) there have been great specials on DNA kits, I expect 2019 will be the same.

Hope to see you February 27 – March 2, 2019 at RootsTech!

 

 

 

Desperately Seeking: Locating Lost Family in Newspaper Advertisements

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the mass migration of people meant that many families were divided, with some members moving, often thousands of miles away to foreign shores, and some members left behind in the home country. The unpredictable and slow-moving postage system meant that extended family members could go months and years without hearing from their loved ones. By the time letters arrived, the family member may have moved on and many times, communication between the family members was lost.

Advertisements placed in newspapers give testament to how many families lost contact with each other. Newspapers carried numerous advertisements in each edition from family members pleading for information on their lost siblings, parents, and other relatives. It was often a last resort in an attempt to locate the missing family member.

How can these advertisements help in our research?

These newspaper advertisements can help fill in missing information on our family trees. They may point to unknown relatives or to a location where a family might have moved to. That may give us a starting point in our search to find a family when other resources have come up blank.  Some will even provide information like a maiden name, a date when the person left his homeland, the emigrant ship name, the parish and county they come from, and even military service details.

In 1895, Anna Hartman, placed an advertisement in the Deseret Weekly, looking for information on her siblings who had left Illinois, supposedly for Utah.

Deseret_Weekly
 “Information Wanted”, Deseret Weekly, 20 April 1895, Page 5 via https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu.

This small advertisement provides quite a bit of information:

  • It states that Anna Hartman is looking for her siblings with last names Judd and Fuller. If her brothers are Fuller’s then this gives us both Anna and her sister, Lisania’s, maiden name.
  • It gives us Anna’s married name (Hartman)
  • It gives us Lisania’s married name (Judd)
  • It gives us Anna’s current location at the time of writing the advertisement (Peoria, Illinois)
  • It gives a supposed location that her siblings were expected to be in (Utah)
  • It states where the family was reared (Warsaw, Hancock, Illinois)
  • It also gives us some background to the previous contact between the siblings (many years without contact).

It’s good to remember that these are only clues and the information in the advertisement is what the person placing the ad remembers or thinks. It may not always be accurate.

Here are a few more advertisements from all across the U.S.  Each one has different information and varying clues to follow-up on. If Daniel Cunningham were our ancestor we would be fortunate to find this advertisement giving military service details.

Irish_American_Weekly_military
“Dublin” Irish American Weekly, Saturday, Jun 14, 1879, New York, NY, Page 8.

Woodburn Mulford simply wanted to go lie in the shade of a palm tree and be soothed by the songs of beautiful maidens. Postmaster Mulford, his brother, placed this advertisement in the Territorial Enterprise of Virginia City, Nevada in 1879. It doesn’t appear that the postmaster was too impressed with his brother’s choice.

Territorial_hono
“Information Wanted”, Territorial Enterprise, Wed. Nov. 5, 1879, Virginia City, Nevada, Page 3.

Occupations, physical description, marriage date and location, name and birth date of a son, and travel plans were all included in this short advertisement in the Honolulu, Hawaii Friend in 1872.

Friend
Friend, Thurs. Feb. 1, 1872, Honolulu, Hawaii, Vol. 21, Issue 2, Page 13.

A few research tips:

  • If you are researching an Irish-born ancestor who came to the U.S. you will find that newspapers, especially those published on the East coast in the 18th and early 19th centuries, are full of advertisements from Irish families trying to locate their missing family members.
  • Don’t limit yourself to the local newspapers where your ancestor lived. Start with a country-wide search and narrow results by date. Families would often put advertisements in newspapers with wider reaches hoping to catch the eye of their loved one or a friend who might know them.
  • Using a search term such as ‘Information Wanted’ will result in hundreds of items to look through. If you are just browsing to get an idea of the kind of advertisements you will find, then this works. However, if you are searching for a specific person, try ‘Information Wanted’ + ‘the person’s name’.

Good luck! I’d love to hear if you’ve had any great breakthroughs using these types of newspaper advertisements.

 

 

“Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death”

When we look at the factors that caused our ancestors to migrate from one place to another, specifically within the United States, do we consider the effect that climate disasters may have had? Most of us are familiar with the Dust Bowl, which forced thousands of families in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, to abandon their farms, devastated by crop losses and unable to pay their mortgages and migrate westwards towards California.

For hundreds of years America was largely an agricultural society, dependent on the weather for providing good conditions for crop growth. Many of our farming ancestors lived or died by the harvest their lands produced. Climate disasters, and their accompanying economic losses, were catastrophic to families, and to communities.

In 1847, a 76-year old farmer by the name of Reuben Whitten died in Holderness, Grafton County, New Hampshire.1 Back in the summer of 1816, Reuben had harvested a good wheat crop which he had shared with his family and neighbors. Why was that act important? By sharing his wheat crop, Reuben saved his family and neighbors from starving at a time when all their crops had failed, and many of their sheep had frozen to death, in the summer. In fact, Reuben’s neighbors were so thankful to him, that family members later erected a stone commemorating his selfless act.

Weather grave “1771 Ruben Whitten 1847
Son of a Revolutionary Soldier
A Pioneer of this Town. Cold season of
1816 Raised 40 Bushils of Wheat on this
Land whitch Kept his Family and
Neighbours from Starveation.”

How was it that crops failed and animals froze in what should have been the warm and sunny summer of 1816 in New England? What was the ‘cold season of 1816’ to which the words carved onto the headstone referred? Known also as the “year without a summer” or “eighteen hundred and froze to death”, 1816 was a year that few who lived in the New England region would soon forget.

No-one could have expected that the mild start to April 1816 would foreshadow a period of frigid temperatures, severe frosts and heavy snows. Summer would not come that year to New England. In Salem, Massachusetts, April 24 started off with a mild 74°F, dropping to 21°F within 30 hours. By May 1816, several cold spells had delayed planting and farmers began to fear that they would not have crops to sell or food to feed their families. The corn crop in Maine had frozen and strong winds and freezing temperatures from Canada killed the buds on the fruit trees. Warm days would bring hope to the farmers and a hasty planting of their crops, that hope only to be dashed a few days later when severe frosts would again occur. This cyclic change in temperatures would continue through September 1816, eventually bringing serious drought to the area and to much of the United States.

Weather chart

Newspapers across the region carried articles on the strange weather and the devastating crop losses. On 12 June, 1816, the Hallowell Gazette of Maine reported that there had been few days without which a fire was needed to keep warm, and that the “cold was so severe that vegetation seems to have been suspended.” 2

Weather 1

From New Hampshire, the Intelligencer of 6 September 1816, reported on various places hit by the unseasonably frigid weather and the damage to the corn crops. Ending the article with, “It is probable the year 1816 will have this remarkable designation, that there has been a frost in every month of it.” 3

Weather 2

The extreme weather and resultant loss of crops forced farmers to leave the New England region. Many moved to western New York and into the Northwest Territory (covering the present states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and northwestern Minnesota). Their migration played a part in speeding up westward expansion in the United States and shaped what became known as the American Heartland. The movement of these farming families into what is now Indiana and Illinois helped found those states. 4

Consider again Reuben Whitten sharing his wheat crop with his neighbors in 1816.  It takes on much greater significance when we understand the context surrounding his act. He very likely saved some in his community from starvation.

If your family moved from New England around 1816-1818, it is entirely possible the ‘year without a summer’ may have been the cause.  Some 15 000 people left Vermont after the summer of 1816 for places west.

Climate disasters were devastating for our farming ancestors and their communities and may be the very reason they moved, searching for better conditions in which to grow their crops and support their families.

 

 


  1. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 9 October 2018), memorial page for Reuben Whitten (1771-1847), Find A Grave Memorial no. 19525630, citing Reuben Whitten cemetery, Grafton county, New Hampshire; Maintained by B.L. Hughes (contributor). 
  2. “Extraordinary Weather,” Hallowell Gazette, Maine, 12 June 1816, page 3, col. 1; online archives, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 9 October 2018). 
  3. “The Season,” The Intelligencer, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 5 September 1816, page 2, col. 3; online archives, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 9 October 2018). 
  4. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “Year Without a Summer,” rev. 17:18, 27 August 2018.