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.

RootsTech 2019

RootsTech registration opens tomorrow, on 20 September 2018, and a tentative schedule has just gone up. It’s subject to change but take a look and see the incredible variety of classes that will be offered!

2019 will be my 5th year attending RootsTech and my first year as a RootsTech Ambassador. I’m excited to see what’s in store. A few weeks ago, RootsTech announced that they would be expanding to London in 2019! What an incredible opportunity for those who live in the UK and Europe to experience RootsTech for themselves. You can find more information here.

Have you attended RootsTech? Thinking about going in 2019?  Here are my Top 5 reasons to attend RootsTech:

 1.  Making connections. RootsTech 2019’s theme is “Connect. Belong.” There is nothing more exhilarating than being in a place with thousands of other people who share your passion for genealogy, and feeling like you are where you belong. But even more than that, RootsTech brings together family and friends…those you know, and those you discover. For the last three years, RootsTech has been the meeting place for myself and my good friend, Kandace. We met about 18 years ago in Colorado as new moms with baby boys. Our families grew and we moved to different states but stayed in touch. In 2016, I invited Kandace to attend RootsTech with me and a tradition was born. Every year since we have met in Salt Lake City to attend RootsTech together. Connecting is what RootsTech does so well.

RootsTech-us

2.  With over 300 classes to pick from, you will find one that suits you perfectly. From beginners to those who are advanced researchers, RootsTech offers a great variety of classes. Challenge yourself to learn something new.

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3.  The Expo Hall. Hundreds of vendors, offering just about everything you can think of to do with genealogy. Be sure to allow yourself a good chunk of time to visit the Expo Hall. There is so much to see, so many vendors to talk to, presentations to attend and swag to collect. It’s one of my favorite things about RootsTech!

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4.  Keynote Speakers. Be inspired by interesting and engaging keynote speakers. Two of my favorite speakers from 2018 were Scott Hamilton and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. I look forward to hearing who the speakers will be for 2019!

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5.  Proximity to the Family History Library. RootsTech takes place at the Salt Palace Convention Center, only a block from the Family History Library. Spend some quality research time here among the thousands of records and books. Each year I fly into Salt Lake City a day or two before RootsTech starts so that I can work in the Library.

FHL-collage

I hope you’ll join me at RootsTech 2019!  Registration for RootsTech 2019 opens tomorrow, 20 September 2018. Register early to take advantage of early bird pricing! Look out for the free RootsTech pass I’ll be giving away on my blog.

And for more information on everything RootsTech, check out the Road to RootsTech 2019 here.

 

 

Headed to RootsTech 2018? Let’s Get Organized!

Rootstech-headerRootsTech 2018 is 19 days away! Are you ready?  This will be my 4th time attending and over the years I’ve learned a few things about organizing myself for each day’s classes and for research time in the Family History Library.

How I organize for RootsTech’s incredible line up of classes

First thing to do is to download the RootsTech mobile app. It’s available from the App Store and the Google Play Store. Using the app you are able to create your personalized schedule for each day. As you read through each of the class descriptions you can ‘star’ them, which moves them to your daily schedule (My Schedule on the app). I always pick my top choice class and a back up class for each hour. I also note when lunch is and when the Expo Hall will be open. Once you have finished selecting classes for each day, tap the gear icon on the upper right-hand side of the screen and slide down to a reddish box which says ‘Email My Show Summary’. You can email your class schedule to yourself or share it with a friend attending with you.

What about syllabus material for each class?

Handouts are only available on the app but can be downloaded or emailed to yourself. To do this, tap on My Schedule (which you have already created) and tap on your first selected class. Move down the page that shows information on that class until you come to the very bottom where it says ‘Resources’. Under that is ‘Handouts’. Tap on ‘Handouts’ and if the class has one, it will ask you if you would like to Take Notes on the Handout, Download Handout or Email Handout. I prefer to email the handout to myself. You will receive an email with a PDF of that classes’ handout. I print that out and write the location and time of the class in the upper right-hand corner.

notes1
I then place them in day and time order in my binder. This way I don’t have to keep referring to my phone to see what’s next on my schedule. I can look at my binder and it’s all organized there. I use the back of the handouts to make any notes during that class.  Everyone has a different system to keep themselves organized. I’ve used this one all the years I’ve attended RootsTech and it’s worked well. My binder also has a place for pens and pencils, flash drives, business cards and more paper. I like having it all in one place.

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How I organize for research at the world-famous Family History Library

Going to RootsTech means making time for research at the Family History Library. Over the years I’ve worked out a system that keeps me on track and organized. My biggest tip for researching here is to plan ahead! There are lots of BSO’s (those distracting Bright Shiny Objects) hiding in the library and it’s easy to get sidetracked. It’s not always a bad thing to be lured in by a BSO, actually it can be kind of fun! But when you’re fitting in time between RootsTech classes or at the end of a busy and mentally exhausting day, you want to try to stay on track.

As I research I use the Research Log report on my desktop family history software to keep track of the films or books that I need to look at when I am next at the Family History Library and which are not available online. Use FamilySearch.org to find the correct film or book and check whether it has been digitized or not. If not, I add that information to a spreadsheet I have set up with columns as shown below.

Notes3
I try to be very clear about the information I am looking for. I create these Research Logs as I work on projects and it can sometimes be months since I marked that I needed to look at a specific film for information. I don’t want to spend time having to pull up my family history software program and look at why I wanted that information. Each item is numbered in the far-left hand column. That number is what I use in my handwritten notes as a reference for any information I find or do not find. Of course, I also add the film or book number again on the notes I am making in the library, as well as any notes on whether I photocopied, downloaded or transcribed the image. I never transfer any information to my family history software until I am back home and able to carefully evaluate it first. Some may prefer to use a preprinted Research Log template to write down what you find in the Library but those never seem to have enough space for me to write in.

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RootsTech is always a whirlwind of great education and fun socializing. Get the most out of your RootsTech trip by getting and staying organized!

What tips do you have on staying organized at RootsTech?

 

Silence and her granddaughter, Experience.

Puritan-Name
Silence and her granddaughter, Experience.

We probably all have them in our family trees. Those Puritan virtue names popular in the 17th century. Mercy, Thankful, Liberty, Faith, Prudence, and in my case …. Silence, and her granddaughter, Experience.

Silence Potter was born in Exeter, Washington county, Rhode Island on 22 January 1753 1. Her parents were Joseph Potter and Catherine Spencer. You might expect that her siblings would also have interesting names, yet that’s not the case at all. Her four sisters were named Hannah, Mary, Martha and Sarah.

Silence was a name somewhat popular in Puritan England, and one that crossed the Atlantic to be seen in America 2. It was thought to have its origins in the admonition of Saint Paul, “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection.” (1 Tim. Ii. II). In fact, devoted Puritans found a source of continual supply of inspiration in the Epistle to the Romans:

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed” 3

Justice, Faith, Grace, Hope, Glory, Patience and … Experience. All names springing from the pages of the bible onto the town birth registers of Rhode Island in the 1700s.

Silence Potter was married in 1774, at the age of 21, to a man named Elijah Case.4 Elijah Case was a founding member of the Penfield Baptist Church in Monroe county, New York. He was also the first minister there. Silence and Elijah had ten children: Mary, Elijah, Catherine, Alexander, Joseph, Abel, Solomon, Elisha, Benjamin and Reaboan. All common names for the time period, with perhaps the exception of Reaboan. Although Reaboan appears to be a Baptist name, I wasn’t able to confirm its origins or meaning.

SilencePotter1753_grave
Gravestone for Silence Case, Oakwood Cemetery, Penfield, Monroe county, New York.

Experience Case
Elijah, the oldest son of Silence and Elijah, was born on 11 September 1776. 5 Elijah Case (1776) married Elizabeth Crandall and had several children. One they named, Experience. The other children again had fairly every day names like Solomon, Elizabeth, Daniel and Hannah.

Experience’s name would turn out to be a fitting one, and perhaps a foreshadowing of her life to come. A life that would be full of difficult challenges and experiences. Experience married in 1826 and settled in Michigan Territory with her husband, Lucius Hubbard Fuller. They moved to Warsaw, Hancock county, 6 where malaria was rampant in the swampy lands surrounding them. There was also great tension in the community between the Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and non-Mormon settlers. Lucius was a Mormon but there is no indication that Experience joined the church. In April 1845, Lucius died, likely of complications from malaria. 7 Experience was left a widow with four children still at home.  Experience and two of her children were also sick when Lucius died. One year later, in 1846, Experience died. 8 She was only 39 years old. The last few years of Experience’s life can be learned about  through the pages of her probate record which I wrote about in a previous post.

Silence and Experience, grandmother and granddaughter. Their unusual names help us to see them with more distinction at a time when women’s legal and social status was almost completely overshadowed by the men in their lives.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 6 prompt: Favorite Name.

 


  1. “Rhode Island, Vital Records, 1636-1899”, database with images; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018), entry for Silence Potter birth, 22 January 1753. 
  2. Charles W. Bardsley, Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. (London, Chatto and Windus, 1880), 145; digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org : accessed 7 February 2018). 
  3. King James bible, Romans, Chapter 5: v. 1-5. 
  4. “Rhode Island, Vital Records, 1636-1899”, database with images; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018), marriage of Elijah Case and Silence Potter, 1774. 
  5. “Rhode Island, Birth Index, 1636-1930”, database with images; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018), entry for birth of Elijah Case, 11 September 1776. 
  6. 1840 U.S. census, Hancock County, Illinois, no township, p. 27 (written), entry for L.H. Fuller; digital image by subscription, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 7 February 2018); citing National Archives microfilm M704, roll 60. 
  7. Hancock County, Illinois, Probate Records, ca. 1831-1942, Boxes 15-16, 1840s-1850s, Case 16, letters of administration of estate of Lucius Hubbard Fuller, 3 August 1844; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018). 
  8. Hancock County, Illinois, Probate Records, ca. 1831-1942, Boxes 15-16, 1840s-1850s, Case 16, letters of administration of estate of Experience Fuller, 8 December 1846; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018). 

Understanding what the Census Enumerator was meant to write (and how that helps you understand your ancestor).

1900 censusIn the Census: Understanding what the census enumerator was instructed to write.

The census is one of the first places we go to when researching our ancestors. We pour over those images, trying to interpret what is on the page in front of us. For the 1880 U.S. census, the Superintendent of the Census offered supervisors some general guidelines in choosing enumerators: “The appointments should be made with reference to physical activity, and to aptness, neatness, and accuracy in writing and in the use of figures,” to “active” and “energetic” young men “of good address.”1 Most genealogists would agree that, “aptness, neatness, and accuracy in writing” is not what we always find on the census. There is little we can do about indistinct handwriting but perhaps gaining some context to what the enumerator was instructed to write in that particular column may help us interpret something which is difficult to read or a mark or abbreviation that makes no sense to us.

An Example

George Everett Zimmerman, my husband’s great grand-uncle, was enumerated on the 1920 U.S. census as Zimmerman, E. George.2 At first glance I may have concluded that while I had previously thought his first name to be George, and middle name Everett, this census entry may make me think that perhaps the initial ‘E’ for Everett was actually his first name and George, his middle name, was the name he went by.

Zimmerman census
1920 U.S. Census for Zimmerman, E. George.

After studying the other families on the page, I could see that all were enumerated as [last name] [initial] [first name]. In fact, all the heads of households in the entire enumeration district were recorded in this manner.

IPUMS (The Integrated Public Use Microdata Series) uses microdata to study the past sixteen federal censuses, looking for patterns of social and economic change. It also contains a record of all census questions, enumerators instructions, and brief histories of every census from 1790-2010. For our example above the enumerator was given this instruction:

“108. How names are to be written. – Enter first the last name or surname, then the given name in full, and the initial of the middle name, if any. Where the surname is the same as that of the person in the preceding line do not repeat the name, but draw a horizontal line (-) under the name above, as shown in the illustrative example.”3

The enumerator misunderstood the instructions and recorded all the names in his enumeration district by last name, middle initial, given name.

Learn More

If you want to get more out of your U.S. census research I suggest looking at IPUMS.org. The instructions to enumerators is invaluable in providing context to the information we see on the census.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 5 prompt: In the Census.

  1. Diana L. Magnuson, “The Making of a Modern Census: the United States Census of Population, 1790-1940,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1995, IPUMS (https://usa.ipums.org/usa/voliii/enumproc1.shtml : accessed 1 February 2018). 
  2. 1920 U.S. Census, San Joaquin County, California, population schedule, O’Neal Township, ED 153, sheet 28A (penned), dwelling 586, family 586, George E. Zimmerman household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 January 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 143. 
  3. 1920 Census:  Instructions to Enumerators, IPUMS USA (https://usa.ipums.org/usa/voliii/inst1920.shtml : accessed 31 January 2018), citing “How names are to be written”.