Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How Do You Find All That?!

I post all of my Ancestor Bio posts to Facebook for family and friends to see, and today, after posting Andrew’s story, I had a couple friends ask, “How do you find this stuff?!” I tried to answer on Facebook but apparently it’s currently not letting me comment on my own or anyone else’s posts for some unknown reason. But it is letting me post from outside sites to Facebook, so I thought I’d do a post answering the question. Tomorrow I’ll go back to my compulsive quest to catch up on the 52 Ancestors challenge (I’ve four more posts planned – not written yet --this week and then I should be caught up and go back to one a week, so I can sleep, too – coming up are posts on GGG-grandfather Francis “Franz Joseph” Henn and GGG-grandmother Katharina Phillipine Blank, #24 & #25; GG-grandfather John “Josephat” Henn #26; GG-grand aunt Rosa “Generosa” Henn #27; and, #28, a transcription of a newspaper article describing the inquest into the death of Rosa’s son, Henry Strauss, jr (the latter is not my normal style of post but I found it fascinating and hope you will too. In fact, each of these people had fascinating bits in their stories, just wait and see!)

This post is not my normal sort of post either because I still consider myself a beginner doing basic research, solely online, on a few sites, so far. I know there is more on other sites online, and far more to find offline, but what I am doing now is a first pass through both sides of my family. At the end of this year (I think) I’ll be going back through, slower, looking for the harder to find things. Anyway, while I consider myself a beginner, I realize I have friends who are just starting that might find what I do in my searches helpful in developing their own search style.

I discovered in thinking about writing this post that I have already developed basic search patterns that I apply to each person, with varying levels of success.  So I’m going to talk about this in steps. (Problem: I don’t know how to do screen shots, so I can’t show you exactly).

To begin with, I’m lucky enough to have some family research / written memories passed down to me on both sides of the family. More on Dad’s side than Mom’s but both tending to the “born, married, begat, and died" dates and names. My interest is in filling in the between spaces so I do more societal background research for my bio posts than you may be interested in. In any case, even though I have helpful family documents like this, I consider them clues, not gospel. I’m sure they did the best they could in their research/ interviewing (in terms of interviewing, probably better than me as I don’t do enough, because I’m shy and busy.) But I don’t know them & thus don’t know what they did for research, as most did not attach source documents or cites, and I don’t know how they think. I know me. I know that I have had over 20 years’ experience in assessing credibility of evidence as an Administrative Law Judge, and I’m fixated on being able to document a fact. True, I work in a small, extremely niche area of the law and I haven’t done a lot of historical research since college but the principles of analysis carry over, I think, as well as the application of logic and common sense.  (Some things that drive me nuts from other Ancestry trees: even if the offered person has the right name, if they don’t have the right kids (or parents if you know them), it’s probably not the right person. If the kid is born when the putative mother is 8 years old --or before the alleged mother is born–they aren’t related; if someone is born in Illinois/Indiana Territory in the early 1800s one month after the mother documented as being in Maryland, the baby is not that mother's child as no one could get from Maryland to Illinois/Indiana Territory in a month in the early 1800s – think horses or walking – let alone an 8 month pregnant woman!)

I. My first step always starts with My working tree is there, I have the International Membership, which is quite helpful now that I’m starting to have ancestors on the other side of the pond, as some records from other countries show up in my shaking leaf hints. I have to be careful in looking at the hints because not all of them apply to my family. This is where my non-straight line approach helps. I don’t just look up straight line ancestors but all their siblings and their kids too (I usually stop two generations down on this sweep through) as that provides me with more facts to double-check against others, as how I think my Oswego Andrew Henn is right because of the newspaper notice about his sister Rosa’s death. If I were doing straight-line I wouldn’t know about Rosa (who has a tragically fascinating life story, btw; coming soon.) I also note neighbor’s names in censuses as I’ve noticed that people seemed to move west in groups of people they know and the same names showing up as before might confirm that I’ve found the right William Erwin or Elizabeth Bixler Wolfington Moore.  

II. My second step is also but I click the link to “search records” just above the “overview tab” and go see what else I might find. You can alter the search parameters, look in all the searchable records at once or one at a time [there are records that are only browsable not searchable, that I’d have to look at page by page, but I’m saving them for a different pass.]  I look past the point where Ancestry says the records are no longer likely to be my ancestor for a few pages. Sometimes I find stuff that way: directories, yearbooks, land records, etc.

III. My third step is’s record search. I don’t have a tree up there yet, but with a free membership I can search all the records I want. Mostly there though I look for death certificates and marriage records as they often have them when Ancestry doesn’t; or when Ancestry might have given me the information off a document but not let me see the original, FamilySearch often has the original. ALWAYS LOOK AT THE ORIGINAL of any document when you can, it has so much more information than is in the index! (And sometimes the transcriber transcribes something incorrectly in the index version.) If I find them, I download them and take notes (lawyer here – we take notes on everything).

IV. If Ancestry has shown me a draft registration, or my ancestor is alive during a war, I check (subscription site), which has historical military records. Lots of them. Not all of them, but more are added weekly so check back. I found a boatload of information from Mariah Bailey’s application for a Mother’s pension against her son John’s death in the Civil War. Again, you’ll have to sort through and make judgment calls as to which records belong to your family. But you can set the search parameters to help limit what you find.

If you already know your ancestor was in the Civil War, look for him in the National Park Service’sSoldier’s and Sailor’s database to find out what he did in the War, plug in his name & perhaps other details, then sort out who is yours, then click on the battle unit to get to a description of what he went through. I've found (through Google) that some states have good archives of military info (e.g., Indiana, Missouri & Illinois are good, Pennsylvania is difficult to navigate) that extend beyond the Civil War. This cheat sheet helps you figure out what war your ancestor may have fought in: 

V. Next I go to Google Play,Books, and search for old e-books on the places my Ancestor has lived. A lot of counties did histories around 1880 – 1905, some with biographical sketches of the first settlers and/or prominent people. Most are free and most are searchable within the e-book: plug in the relevant surname and see what pops up. Sometimes it’s a lot (Judge Erwin), sometimes it’s just a list of who enlisted in what (Andrew Henn) & sometimes I get nothing – except interesting background information about the area he lived.

VI. My sixth step is to look for local historical newspaper articles about my ancestor. Small town newspapers used to do stories or one line squibs on everything: who visited who, 50th anniversary parties, reunions, obituaries, hospital entrance and release, legal notices, plus regular news. This step requires patience as the search capabilities on each site are based on scanning and sometimes on old newspapers it scans wrong, or you ancestor decided to go by their middle name for a while [names used to be very interchangeable, I’ve found]. But when you find something it’s a delight. The main pay sites I’ve used are NewspaperArchive,com,, and;the free sites have been the Library of Congress and, for New York, only, the Fulton Post Card site.  and when I don’t know where to look, The Ancestor Hunt site has an excellent section on where to find archived newspapers in any state. Newspaper mentions can really humanize and bring a person to life as they did for Myrtle Bailey and for Mabel Erwin Snyder.

VII. My seventh step is to Google the person’s name and lifespan, and perhaps a key factor about him . Somebody else might have done research you want to see. If you’re using the info for your own tree/personal use, you can just use it probably under fair use, just keep the cite so you can find it again – there is apparently a “proper” way to cite for genealogical purposes: I don’t know it -- I’ve got the book but haven’t read it yet so i'm not using it yet -- I will go back through and correct cites after I have time to read the book. Right now I figure it works if I cite enough detail that I can find it again. If you’d like to use part of what is written on the site or a photo in a blog or book, email the person or entity and ask permission first or if you think you’ll be using their phrasing or the picture. While FACTS can’t be copyrighted, how one writes about them can be, unless it’s old enough to be off copyright.  I’ve links on copyright issues for family historians in my Resources page, others can explain that a whole lot better than I can. It is not my area, so nothing I write here should be construed as legal advice.

VIII. My eighth step is to google background things for general info & understanding. Curiosity is one of the best traits a family historian can have. For the post on Clarence Snyder I googled "Plumbrook munitions" and "teachers in the Great Depression" among others. For the post on Andrew Henn I googled: “Germans in Syracuse NY Oswego” – there’s bunch of info on that; “German emigration passenger list” – there’s a website, plus Ancestry has some; “Ship Radius 1850s”, “Ship Schiller 1850’s” – that was a bust but it’s worked before; “Baden emigration 1800s” – there turns out to be a lot on that, a good bit in German (I used Google Translate), including lists of people who left Baden with details as to the port used & whether they were steerage or not; I googled “emigration 1850s Bremen”  and “emigration 1850s Le Havre” – fascinating stuff; “Coopers 1850s” “Baden History” – got a birth record index that had a bit more info than Ancestry’s – in German, thank you Google Translate; “1800s Germany why do children’s birth registration change religion in the same family” – that one will be used in a later post; and probably other things I’ve forgotten now. I do list sources at the bottom of my ancestor bio posts. I tend to use Google a lot in prepping for a blog post, and I Google anything I can think of that I’m curious about, even though sometimes 2-3 hours of research results in one sentence by the time I write it up. But each search gives me more knowledge with which to find out more, and it carries over from ancestor to ancestor. The irony of any information search is that you must know something to find out more. It helps you form the questions to ask.

And last, if I’m blogging the person, I look for images, pictures, You Tube videos, etc., to illustrate and explain the story. Reading a big block of text without pictures is intimidating to a lot of people in our video age and people won’t read or finish it no matter how interesting it is. I LOVE having pictures of the person, but I don’t have many (actually I don’t have any more further up the tree on Dad’s side of the family than I’ve already put up – if you have some and are willing to share with me I’ll be forever grateful!). Sometimes I use images of documents, full or cropped. Sometimes images of old ads (pre-1923 is off copyright in the USA - other rules apply in other countries) that I've found through a Google search. I've bookmarked websites that connect me to photos/art which are under the creative commons license (which allows me to use it under certain conditions and with proper credit) or in the public domain. I love,, Creative Commons Search, and Wikimedia Commons. There are other sites too. I’m concerned about making copyright violations because even though this isn’t my area and I know virtually nothing beyond what I’ve read on the Legal Genealogist’s blog (excellent blog, btw) and/or linked to in my Resources page, I’m afraid I’d be held to a higher standard because of the J.D., and I can’t afford a screw up in that area. So I try to be careful..

I hope this helps someone. If you’ve got questions, leave a comment, or email me at the address on the Contact Me page; I’ll try to answer. If I know you on Facebook, well, it’s got to let me comment again someday!

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