Tuesday, October 02, 2012


When I first saw FindMyPast I was particularly struck by the maps which show you the person's location on that census. I could see many uses for that. And the census maps in FindMyPast would be useful -- IF they were dependably accurate. But they aren't. And there are too many I know aren't to trust those I don't know.

Robert Downing arrived in Illinois and settled along Salt Creek in the center of the state in 1821. I know what land he bought and where it is. It hasn't moved since.

In the 1830 Census for SANGAMON County, Illinois, I found Robert Downing. There he is on a page with the folks that were his neighbors at the time, many of whom, or their descendants, would continue as his neighbors the rest of his life. With the transcription is the map of his location. He is found somewhere north of the Decatur airport. Decatur is in Macon County, Illinois.

From the 1840 census for Mt. Pulaski Precinct, LOGAN County, Illinois, I find Robert Downing. He didn't move. In 1839 Logan was created from Sangamon. The transcript is correct. I know it is the right person, right neighbors, etc. Yet according to the map he is now northeast of Paris in EDGAR County, Illinois, just west of the Illinois-Indiana border. In 1850 he is in the same location in Edgar County. When I began to look for the 1860 census for him FindMyPast crashed.

In 1870 Robert is still farming but he is doing so from a house in the town of Mt. Pulaski according to the map. The census sheet show his neighbors, all those farmers. Amazing that they all moved to town together isn't it? In 1880 Robert, now a man of 86, retired farmer, living with his wife, son, daughter in law and grandchildren, is again located in the town of Mt. Pulaski according to the map. Unfortunately the actual census page shows his neighbors to be people living on farms. At this point it crashed again. It seems to do that a lot.

FindMyPast also has the Social Security Death Index. The searches I did returned what I expected. You can get the SSDI free at FamilySearch.org though.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Birth Certificates

Birth certificates have gone big time. Everyone wants to see your birth certificate. Like genealogists they see them as accurate proof of birth.

I am looking at a certificate of birth issued by the State of Illinois. Dwight H. Green was Governor. I know, just as trivia, he was the governor before Adlai Stevenson so that gives me a date range and sure enough, it was issued in 1947. 

It was created at the county level. I personally knew every person who is named at that level and am familiar with their signatures. I know therefore that it is a transcript of the actual certificate and the signatures are not real. While I would think that would be obvious just looking at it you just never know who has questions.

The birth, however, took place in the prior century. Nowhere on the document does it say "delayed" or other term that would indicate same.

The father's birthplace, city, is not listed and the state is wrong. The mother's birthplace, city, is not listed. The person giving the information states: "I HEREBY CERTIFY that I had actual knowledge of the facts as stated in this RECORD OF BIRTH at the time the birth occurred, and know them to be be true; and that I am related to this person as mother and that I am at least one year older."

The "I am at least one year older" always amuses me. One year olds have "actual knowledge of the facts...at the time the birth occurred..." Really?

So we have the person and her mother and then the Notary Public who attests to all this. The Notary is the signer's youngest son. 

The informant, who is the mother, doesn't know exactly where she was born and she is wrong about even the state of her husband's birth. All of the persons who signed off at the county level are members of the same family. No other person signed off on it at the county level. It went to the state and was duly issued. 

Why do we think birth certificates are reliable sources?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Death Certificates

It's good genealogical practice to collect as much documentation as you can and certainly of critical facts. Birth and death are some of those critical facts. So we dutifully go to the courthouse or write or call and we spend a lot of money on vital records. We get them home, scan them into our computers and then what? Buy a bigger file drawer to store paper? Why are we doing this? The courthouses do not need our business.

Let's look at death certificates. The more first hand experience dealing with death and the resulting death certificates I have the more inaccuracies I notice.

First, a death certificate is not a primary source. It is rarely if ever signed by a person who witnessed the death but rather the doctor of record for the person or the facility. S/he may not have seen the person in some time. Someone with some authority told them the person was dead and they signed off on it.  Hmm. I see a mystery plot here.

The person who provided the background information on the person may have no clue. They don't have to be related or present at the death or even have seen the person lately. If you haven't noticed this before look at some of those in your collection.

Ok, the death date. Has to right, right? Ever talk to a witness to the death of someone who died in hospice at night? It might be the next day before the official arrives to officially declare them dead. Same thing happens in facilities. What about a person who dies unattended and that fact is not known for awhile, maybe days?

The death certificate probably is accurate as to the name of the funeral director. Very rarely, old funeral home records are located and, even more rarely, are made available to the public. Somehow I don't think knowing that is the reason we are collecting the death certificates.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Genealogy Police

There is a lot of jabber in the blogs now about fantasy genealogy. I agree there is a lot of it out there. As I have written before, my line back to Adam can be found online, free even. The fantasy genealogy needs to stop. I agree with that too.

But the alternative seems to be The Genealogy Police.

The Genealogy Police challenge every little factoid. "It says here your mother stubbed her toe in 1943? Do you have three pieces of documentation, in duplicate and properly cited, for that?"

Is the idea to drive everyone but the select few out of genealogy, make it an elite specialty field? It seems like that at times.

If that is not the motive - and I certainly hope it isn't - then the police need to rethink their methods. If they drive people out of genealogy there will be no market for the field and the specialty product niche they are trying to create. Ooops.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grave terms of use | The Legal Genealogist

Grave terms of use | The Legal Genealogist

If you are thinking of contributing to a graves web site read this blog by attorney and genealogist Judy G. Russell.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


There were three brothers who went to Illinois. Most genealogists will tell you if it starts with "there were three brothers" or a descent from an Indian princess or royalty it is likely fantasy genealogy. Not so fast.

David Clark of Rahway, New Jersey, married Sarah Winans. They had nine known children, all born in New Jersey. The youngest three, all boys, were David, John Winans and Isaac - our three brothers who went to Illinois. They all went from Rahway to Miami County, Ohio, to Sangamon County, Illinois, although not together.

David Clark  went to Kentucky in 1798 and married Rachel Rutter there about 1800. She died in 1804. He went to Cincinnati in 1805, made brick for the first brick house there, then went back to New Jersey where in 1806 he married Sarah Winans. They became, like his parents, David Clark and Sarah Winans. In 1809 they moved to Miami County, Ohio. David's oldest son Richard Winans Clark married John Winans' second daughter Margaret Ann Clark in 1829 in Miami County, Ohio. The same year David, Sarah, the newlyweds and most of David and Sarah's other children packed up and moved to Sangamon County, Illinois. David was a farmer and a Methodist preacher.

John Winans married Ann "Nancy" Isgrig in Bourbon County, Kentucky. They soon went to Miami County, Ohio. Family records indicate that their son Daniel was born in Ohio in 1812 but John Winans did service in the War of 1812 in the Kentucky Mounted Volunteer Militia, mustering in on August 31, 1813. After that he was undoubtedly in Ohio. He did not settle in Sangamon County, soon to be Logan County, Illinois, until 1838 when he was 60 years old. At that time his eldest daughter Hannah and her husband Asa French also moved to Logan County.

Isaac, the youngest, first married Lydia Zeliph. She died before 1821. He then married the widow Sarah Royal Stought, in Miami County, Ohio.  In 1829 they went Illinois, almost certainly stopping first in Sangamon County, where Sarah's daughter Hannah by her first marriage married David Ward Clark, a child of Isaac's brother John Winans, in Sangamon now Logan in 1831. Note that John Winans was not yet in Illinois but several of his children were. Issac settled in Fulton County where he owned a water powered grist mill.

Three brothers did come to Illinois. So far no Indian princesses or royalty. My emigrant Isgrig ancestor was transported to America by his majesty, a prisoner from Old Bailey - does that make a royalty connection?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Mapping My Ancestors

Mapping your family's historical residences comes up from time to time. Recently blogger Randy Seaver wrote about it in his Genea-Musings. Genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke did an excellent webinar on the subject for RootsMagic. I have her  CD set "Google Earth for Genealogy." It covers more than just mapping. There is a genealogy program "Map My Family Tree" which works with many genealogy database programs.

Randy started in 1900. My rule of thumb is start with grandparents to protect privacy. Another reason is programs like "Map My Family Tree" and Google Earth have issues with names of locations that aren't the same as they are today - it may be Logan County now but then it was Sangamon County - or no longer exist. Yankeetown and Bakerville, both of which were just west of what is now Chestnut, come to mind.

Here is the movement of my maternal grandfather's paternal line, 1850-1975. I can tell you the rest of the lines look about the same although a couple did go out to southeast Kansas and look around temporarily before turning around and heading back home. Let me tell you, it is not terribly exciting to map moving across the field. There were no addresses, street or otherwise, so Downing Cemetery is pivotal to this story.

In 1850 my great great grandfather Samuel lived in a house (which still stands) next to Downing Cemetery. His son William Nelson, a minor, lived with him. William Nelson's mother had died in 1847 which is the reason for Downing Cemetery. In 1862 William Nelson married Delilah Downing (yes, her maiden name was Downing). A couple months later he went off to the Civil War. William Nelson returned from the war to Downing Cemetery.

William Henry, my great grandfather, lived with his mother Delilah and her new husband David Shellhammer about a mile down the road east which was not far from where she grew up. When William Henry married in 1886 (to Eliza Harding who lived a little further down the road east in the next township) they moved to a house on land he owned across the field from his grandfather's house, the one next to Downing Cemetery.

Things went well. Four sons were born. William Henry then built a new house across the field and down half a mile on a little high spot. High means a couple feet above the surrounding land. The new house was a mile due south of Downing Cemetery. In 1903 William Henry died in the typhoid epidemic. In 1910 his son Ellis married  Ethel Ryan and moved his wife into the house. Shortly before she died in 1975 Ellis and Ethel moved to a house in town. Ellis lived in that house in town until he died in 1978. Moving to town - probably two miles if you are a bird, about three by road - was the longest move of his life.

These places can all be viewed on one screen of Google Earth. That same screen can show the cemeteries where all of these people are buried, including Delilah's parents, and the resolution will be high enough you can pick out houses.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Android Genealogy

Way back when I had a Palm which I loved. I had three before Palm stopped making the organizers. I tried other things but it was years before I found an iPod Touch. I have since added an iPad. I tried FamViewer, GEDViewer and Families on them. My comments on FamViewer are here . If you read the comments the developer tells about GEDViewer which I then tried and wrote about here.

Families is only for Legacy software. It allows you to put your entire database on it, add to it while out and about, sync back to your computer. You need to make sure you have the latest database on your idevice, upload it and sync back BEFORE you change something on your computer. If you take a computer along and forget to sync first there is a problem. I sat through the Legacy webinar on Families. While I like having my whole database I am not comfortable doing the sync thing as a general rule. On a specific trip maybe. Here's the webinar. (Scroll down to April 11, 2012.)

This week I got a new phone, an Android. I had GedStar Pro on my Palm. It is not available for idevices (and never will be the developer says) but it is available for Android. I made haste to install it. It is simple but it has everything. You can look up names, families, pedigrees, descendants. You can view your sources, even the details. On some screens, including marriage and burial, you can get a map of the location. On all the maps I tried it got it right even though my locations do not always conform to naming systems required by my genealogy programs - and which their mapping programs whine about.

The program requires first converting your database. It converts directly from Legacy and The Master Genealogist, requires a GEDCOM for other programs. Once you have that there are several ways to get it on your device but the easiest - which they encourage - is to use Dropbox. The developer's web site has all the documentation and it won't take you long to read the whole thing. It is very simple to use.(Hints: install the program, open it on your device once, then proceed with making the file conversion. When making the conversion save the file to Dropbox rather than moving it there later.)

Families is also available for the Android. Julie Cahill Tarr has written a series of articles on apps she uses for her Kindle Fire (an Android device) here. She discusses Families for Android, the Ancestry app (which is available for Apple and Android) and a couple non genealogy programs she uses which I also use.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

FamilySearch Family Tree

You've been wanting access to FamilySearch Family Tree, right? The link tells you how:

Be careful what you wish for though. I've been on it for about a year and, frankly, it's a major mess. Here's what James Tanner has to say:

Friday, March 30, 2012

1940 Census

I'm not excited about the 1940 Census. I know. I know. It's heresy to say that with all the hype that is going on. But it's true. I know where all my ancestors and most other family members were in 1940 - same place they were in 1930 - and 1920. For the most part, same place they had been for the last 100 years. The only difference is in 1940 they will all be in one township instead of two or, if we go back far enough, three. So I just can't get excited about it.

And frankly, be honest, how many of you don't know where your parents or grandparents were in 1940? You might be excited to see the information in writing - maybe you are in the 1940 census - but are you really expecting a big surprise?

I am excited about transcribing the 1940 Census. I think the method in place for doing this, enlisting the help of local genealogical societies to transcribe local counties, will provide future researchers with a much more accurate transcription than we have ever had. We know the local names. That means our grandchildren will not have to be creative in searching for names. Now that's something to be excited about.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


How many generations in your direct female line do you know? This question is for females. The way records were kept men can generally go further back with data on male lines than females with their female lines. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from the mother and thus enables the trace of your maternal line back in time. Unfortunately it can't put a name to the members of the line.

Obviously you are #1 and your mother is #2. My maternal grandmother #3 was Leona Ethel Ryan Downing who was born in 1892 and died in 1975. Her mother was Lillie Margaret Wood Ryan #4. Lillie was born in 1871 and died in 1956. I knew all of these people. Lillie's mother, #5, was Sarah Katherine Lucas Wood. Sarah was born in 1835 and died in 1896. Sarah's mother was Mary Turner Lucas #6. She was born in 1813 and died in 1855. Lillie, Sarah and Mary are buried in the same area of Lake Bank Cemetery, Lake Fork Township, Logan County, Illinois.

Mary's mother was Margaret Low Turner. Margaret #7 was born in Maryland around 1793, had 13 children and died, presumably, in DeWitt County, Illinois, after 1870. Her husband Allen had died in DeWitt in April 1846. Margaret's mother was Mary Low, maiden name unknown. We know her name was Mary from land records in Ohio. Mary #8 was born about 1771 in Maryland, married Nathan Low and died after 1827, presumably in Madison now Clark County, Ohio, where her husband died a few years later.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I recently heard a lecture on The Cloud. The Cloud is our future. The Cloud will store everything. You won't have to worry about backups. The Cloud will work across platforms. The Cloud will keep files compatible with current versions of software. You can collaborate in The Cloud. The Cloud is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

The Cloud may be our future whether we like it or not and you can collaborate in The Cloud but I have some  issues with the rest.

Do you trust all your data to the cloud? Really? What happens when it rains? Seriously, what good is all your data in the cloud when you don't have wi-fi or your ISP is down or your cell provider throttles you back to a snail's pace? My favorite program, Evernote, runs and syncs in The Cloud. If the internet is down I can still use it because there is a local copy but that is not true of many of the apps on my iPad. They depend on The Cloud. No wi-fi, no work. I don't have wi-fi or ISP 24/7 and I am sure I am not the only person who doesn't. Do you really want to be totally dependent on your ISP or cell provider for access to your data? And if you were what would that cost?

What does work across platforms mean? A Word file in The Cloud magically becomes a Pages file for Mac users? If only. I suspect he meant you can use The Cloud from your iPad, your Android tablet, your PC or Mac, your smartphone, etc. But if you put a Pages file up in, say, Dropbox, your collaborator isn't going to be able to read it if they have Word.

You won't have to worry about versions of software in The Cloud. Hmmm. Does The Cloud magically convert those Windows 98 files I can't read now to Windows 7?  Next year will it convert everything to Windows 8?

Let's pretend The Cloud has all those magic properties. What does something like that cost? He tossed out figures. Basically it depends on which one of The Clouds you choose. What? There is more than one Cloud? So if put all your data on Cloud A can your potential collaborators on Cloud D see it? Will we need multiple Clouds?

I welcome The Cloud. But let's eliminate the thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes first.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Online Genealogy and Security

Years ago I was opening a bank account in Chicago. She asked me for my mother's maiden name. I must have looked at her funny because she explained it was for security. I laughed. I told her that wouldn't work where I was from. I knew everyone's mother's maiden name. She said I'd be surprised at the number of people who didn't know their own mother's maiden name.

That was long before the internet. About 25 years ago I was on Compuserve and people traded genealogy in the Roots Forum run by Dick Eastman. I was careful to end mine at my great grandparents. Later I picked a date of 1900 and gave no information after that. When ask my mother's maiden name for "security" purposes I created a maiden name she would not recognize. Early on that was a problem because I was rarely asked and I would forget. So I changed her maiden name to something I could remember. She's had that same maiden name since.

About 15 years ago signing up for the first free web mail account [I still have it] it asked me my birth date. I didn't figure it was any of their business so I created one. They only want to know if I'm adult and the birth date I created indicated I was. Wouldn't you know I forgot the password and they asked my birth date to retrieve it. Fortunately she also gave me a password hint and I got it. [Yes, back then you talked to a real live human.] So I created a "permanent" birth date for myself. Naturally I made myself younger and with a more interesting birth date.

I still don't put out the details in my genealogy but it wouldn't take too much to figure it out from reading blogs, mailing list posts, etc. And a couple of people have posted my lineage all the way to me. 

Security questions have gotten more detailed. I can't answer them. What street did you live on when you were 6? When I was 6 I might not have known what a "street" was. Certainly the roads were not named in the country. So I pick the genealogy question and use my creative facts. 

The criminal who uses my mother's maiden name, my birth date, etc. from my online genealogy is in for a big surprise.