Blog The official blog of Tue, 15 Apr 2014 22:38:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Paying Taxes… Or Not Tue, 15 Apr 2014 19:54:59 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> They say that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Genealogists are used to dealing with records surrounding an ancestor’s death, but what about taxes?

Tax Basics

Tax records in many locations date back earlier than vital records. They’re great for our research because they tend to be kept on a regular basis. (Have you ever heard of a government saying, “Never mind. We’re not going to collect taxes this year.”?) Tax records tend to cover a wide range of people, including those who didn’t own land.  Some locations taxed personal property (sometimes called “chattel”). This could include livestock, slaves, furniture, stills, carriages, etc.

Tax lists don’t necessarily prove residency. A person doesn’t have to live where they own land. Generally speaking, real property (land and buildings) is taxed where the land is; personal property and income is taxed where the owner/earner lives. There are always exceptions, but a good rule of thumb is that a real estate (land) tax list doesn’t prove residency, but a personal property or income tax list does.

IRS Tax Assessment Lists has numerous collections of tax lists. One of my favorites is the IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the states and years that are included in this collection.

The Internal Revenue Service (originally called the Bureau of Internal Revenue) was created in 1862 to “provide Internal Revenue to support the Government at to pay interest on the Public Debt.” These tax lists generally list the person’s name and residence, the items being taxed and their value, the amount of the tax, and whether or not the tax was paid.

Here is a portion of the record from May 1863 for Wayne County, Indiana. Henry Binkley was taxed on $275 worth of wagons; for this, he was taxed $8.25. Aaron Boyer’s corn brooms worth $27 resulted in a tax of $1.41. (See, I told you people were taxed on more than just land!)


What about A.D. Band at the top of the list? His taxable item was way over on the right hand side of the page under “Class C – Enumerated Articles.” (This is a good reminder to scroll across the page!) His taxable articles: 30,475.95 gallons of distilled spirits, with a tax of $6,095.19.


And a Tax Cheat

On Tax Day, it’s hard not to think about one of the most famous tax evaders of all time: Al Capone. The federal government tried for years to gather evidence to convict him of distributing alcohol during Prohibition as well as the violence that surrounded his Chicago gang. What finally did Capone in was an investigation that connected him to income from a gambling house; though it was illegal, the income was taxable. He was convicted of tax evasion in 1931 and was eventually sent to Alcatraz.

Capone’s indictment and conviction made the front page of newspapers across the country, including this one from the Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, available on

Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, 24 October 1931, page 1.

Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, 24 October 1931, page 1.



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What You Might Have Missed: April 14th Edition Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:08:38 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> Blog Posts
WWII Government


From the Barefoot Genealogist:

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Online Trees. Root of All Evil? Fri, 11 Apr 2014 19:17:17 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> What a provocative title: Online Trees: The Root of All Evil? And it was an interesting panel discussion that I participated in at RootsTech 2014.

task list2So are trees the root of all evil? In a word, no. And in fact, not only are they not evil, if you are doing genealogy correctly, they must be part of your research plan. Yep, I went there. Now, I’m sure some of you just spit coffee or whatever you were drinking at your computer screen. But bear with me.

Tom Jones, PhD, CG, CGL,  wrote a thought provoking article for the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ publication OnBoard 18 (May 2012): “Perils of Source Snobbery.

Now I am paraphrasing here, but his point is don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  Yes, we all know that not every tree online is accurate.  And some of those inaccuracies get copied and duplicated much to the frustration of those who have good information.  But does that mean everything you find in an online tree is wrong? It does not.

“Genealogists who categorically disdain certain sources risk overlooking the information they seek or references to that information, thus blocking their research. Genealogists who categorically trust preferred sources risk accepting incorrect information, also blocking—or sidetracking—their research. In contrast, effective family historians consult and assess all sources, regardless of type, that might help answer their research questions. They exclude no potentially useful source, and they trust no unverified source.” — Tom Jones, “Perils of Source Snobbery”

You can’t assume a given source is always going to be reliable.  Can you count on a death certificate always to have the correct death date? Or a tombstone? Usually. But not always. My great grandfather’s tombstone is an example.

Look closely at the death year.  It was originally 1940 and has been since corrected to 1941.

Look closely at the death year. It was originally 1940 and has been since corrected to 1941.

Can you always assume that information in an online tree is wrong? No, you can’t.  You must look at the information and prove or disprove what you see. If you don’t look, you could be missing something quite critical in your research that will block you for a mighty long time.

So next time you are trying to solve a problem, create your research plan that includes all of your favorite “reliable” resources. Census, vitals, immigration and military records.  But don’t forget to include some of those that you have been ignoring.  Family histories, locale histories. And online trees. You just never know where the clue is going to come from that sets you on the right path. If you don’t look at every possible resource, you might just miss it.

Happy Searching!


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Research in the Old Line State: Maryland State Guide Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:47:54 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> Maryland flagMany of us (myself included) can trace our roots back to Maryland. The history we can find there is fascinating, both in terms of our families’ and the state’s.

Maryland can be described as a land of contradictions. It was founded in part to be a safe haven for Catholics from England who wanted to settle in North America, yet Catholics were never the majority. Its famed “Act Concerning Religion” (also known as the Maryland Toleration Act) provided religious protections for Christians, but not for Jews and other non-Christians. It was a slaveholding state, but did not secede from the Union.

(As a side note, I haven’t verified it, but “Maryland, My Maryland” might be the only state song that contains the word “minions.”)

Our new free guide “Maryland Resources: Family History Sources in the Old Line State” will help you with an overview of Maryland history and numerous sources to use when researching your Maryland ancestors.

Need a similar guide for another state? You can find all of the guides that have been published here. Don’t worry if your state isn’t listed; we’re going to publish one for each state. Stay tuned!

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Use England Parish Registers To Research Ancestors Pre-1837 Fri, 11 Apr 2014 14:51:01 +0000 Abbie Lee Black Read more ]]> Continuing on with my previous post, civil registration and census records are usually the place I turn first when starting my research in the UK. These records can be used together to create an accurate snapshot of a family group in the mid-19th century to late 20th century. Before 1837, parish registers are most commonly used to find the baptisms, marriages, and burials of ancestors.


We will be specifically talking about parish registers created in England, but this information applies to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Parish registers were first created in England in 1538 when Henry VIII established the Church of England. By 1597, during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the earliest parish registers were rewritten on vellum, or animal skin, from 1558. This helped protect parish registers and make them available for research today. Many registers before 1558 are lost; they were often written on paper, rather than more durable materials.


Early parish registers were often written in chronological order, including baptisms, marriages, and burials in the same volume. As time went by, many parishes recorded these events in separate books, but it depended on the person writing the registers.


Parish Register Baptism; 1814 Saint Luke, Islington, Middlesex Co


The types of information written in a parish registers varied from scribe to scribe. Usually more information is included on later parish registers. Baptism entries usually listed the name of the child baptized, baptism date, and father’s name. Other information could be recorded, including date of birth, mother’s name, witnesses’ names, or godparents.

Rose’s Act was passed in 1812, which required parish baptisms to be recorded on pre-printed forms. These forms included the parish of birth, county of birth, date of baptism, the child’s name, parents’ names (sometimes maiden name of mother), residence of the family, father’s occupation, and the name of the person who performed the ceremony. Sometimes the date of birth was written in the margins; especially if the child was baptized years after the birth.



Early marriage entries usually only included the groom’s name, the bride’s name, and the date of marriage. By 1754, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act required all individuals (excluding Jews and Quakers) to be married through the Church of England. Before this, some ancestors may not be listed in the parish registers due a clandestine marriage (think Fleet Prison).

A lot more information is recorded on marriage entries after 1754, including the couples’ names, date of marriage, residences of both parties, marital status, how the marriage was performed (banns or licence), signatures of the bride and groom, as well as two witnesses of the marriage.

In 1837, printed forms were institutionalized, which new information: ages of the couple, and names of the bride and groom’s fathers.



Burial records usually do not have as much information as baptism and marriage entries. Sometimes only the name and date of burial are listed. If a young child died, you may find a father’s name. Because of Rose’s Act in 1813, the name date of burial, name of deceased, and age were required in the register.


How to Use Parish Registers

As parish registers are a very useful genealogical resource, many of them have been indexed, digitized, or transcribed. The originals can be found in county record offices across the UK. To know what records are available for each parish and where they are stored, you can use The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers.

From the census and civil registration, you will most likely know at least a good idea which parish and county an event took place for your ancestor. You can use the International Genealogical Index, or IGI, which is a large database of indexed parish baptisms and burials in the UK, created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. also has many parish registers indexed available for research. Most notably, the England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 Collection is a great place to start, similar to the IGI. Ancestry also has large collections of parish registers for LondonYorkshire, Dorset, and Warwickshire, just to name a few.


If you can’t find your ancestor in the parish registers, you can look in the bishop’s transcripts, which are records first started in 1598, which required annual copies of parish registers to be created and sent to the bishop of the parish. These records can usually be found from 1598-1837. When used in conjunction with parish registers, an ancestor could be found, as well as extra information written on either of the documents.


Now that you have found census records and have ordered civil registration documents for your ancestors, start looking through parish registers to see what you find!


Happy hunting!

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Some Blended Families Are Larger Than Others. Can You Beat More Than 20 Children? Thu, 10 Apr 2014 21:31:35 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> You are probably familiar with one of TV’s most famous blended families, The Brady Bunch.  I bet many of you can sing the theme song. (And sorry if I put it in your head…I didn’t want to be alone!)

And I bet if you’ve been working on your family history for even just a little while you have at least one or two in your tree.  But can you beat more than 20 children in a blended family? Let me tell you about George Gillespie.

image01George Gillespie was born sometime around 1731 most likely in Virginia. He married a woman named Mary.  No one seems to know for sure what her maiden name is, but many believe it to be Moore as two of her 12 children had Moore as a middle name. George and Mary had at least 12 children that lived to adulthood. We know this because all 12 are named in his estate settlement in 1830.

The children were: William, Sherrod Moore, Francis Fanni, Letitia Moore, Lucy, Elizabeth, Alexander, Sarah Sally, George, Dicey, Lewis, and Nancy.

That in itself must have been quite the household. Mary, the mother of this brood, is believed to have died sometime before 1785. George then married Mary Saunders, the widow of Charles Farris (1710-1779). Charles and Mary had at least 10 children: James, Mary, Richard, William, John, Hezekiah, Charles, Nancy, Sarah, and Elizabeth.

Now, no doubt all those children were not living with George and the second Mary between 1785 and 1803.  But we do know that some of them were closer than others.

George Gillespie, the younger, married Mary Faris in 1790; Lewis Gillespie married Elizabeth Betsy Faris in 1800 in Amherst, Virginia.  And when George the elder died in 1803, George and Mary, Lewis and Elizabeth, and the widow Mary moved to Franklin County, Tennessee.  I guess you just never know where you will find the love of your life!

So can you beat more than 20 children in a blended family?

Happy Searching!


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Family History Toolkit: Creating Timelines Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:58:06 +0000 Pam Velazquez Read more ]]> Timelines are great tools for deciphering all of your family history discoveries. They can help place your ancestor at a given time and help you understand your ancestor’s life and what records, events, etc. you might be missing. Use timelines to analyze the different records you have found and understand where you should be setting your sights in the future. Take a look at expert Juliana Szucs Smith’s presentation on creating family history timelines:

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Connecting to Your DNA Matches — 2.7 Million AncestryDNA Hints Available to Discover Wed, 09 Apr 2014 21:11:19 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more ]]> Are you using one of our most powerful DNA matching tools?

More and more people are taking the AncestryDNA test which means we are finding more and more matches and are able to identify even more shared ancestors through DNA hints. This is exciting for me as a user—not only am I getting more DNA matches but AncestryDNA is doing the work for me to find a connection. (You can read my personal success story of how I found a picture of my great-grandfather through one of my DNA hints).

We recently improved our DNA hints system (a DNA hint shows a possible common ancestor you share with one of your DNA matches). Our DNA team has been working really hard to improve this system, and since January 2014 we have served up more than a million DNA hints, bringing our total to 2.7 million.

How do DNA hints work?

After you take an autosomal DNA test, AncestryDNA compares your DNA to everyone in the AncestryDNA database. Depending on how much DNA you share with another individual, AncestryDNA estimates a relationship and gives you a list of your DNA matches. If you’ve linked your tree to your DNA results, AncestryDNA can also look through both you and your DNA matches’ trees and search for common names. If AncestryDNA finds the same person in your tree and your match’s tree, you’ll both get a DNA hint on your match page. A leaf is displayed to indicate we found a potential cousin.  Use the filters on the match page to find all of your DNA hints possible-click hints to search your DNA matches for DNA hints.


What happens if I make changes to my tree that is linked to my DNA results? No problem.

This powerful tool is running faster than ever, giving you updated DNA hints as you make changes to your tree. If you make changes to your tree or decide to link your DNA results to another tree, that same day AncestryDNA will upload those changes and reanalyze how you and your DNA matches may be related.

No other database has these tools or capabilities to work behind the scenes for you and predict who your common ancestor might be.

What if I don’t have any hints yet?

  • Don’t get discouraged.
  • Continue to build out your tree.
  • Link your DNA results to a tree (link the results to the person who took the test-Dad took the test, link the results to him in the tree, NOT YOU).
  • Help others by making your tree public or responding to emails from your DNA matches.
    • A hint will still show up with someone who has a private tree but you won’t be able to see which common ancestor you may share.

Why should I link my tree to my DNA results?

Linking your AncestryDNA test to a family tree allows AncestryDNA to keep working for you as you build out your tree on Here’s an example of what a hint can do for you:

shared ancestry hint cowan

I had a 4th cousin show up in my list of DNA matches—only this one came with a hint.  The hint will show me how we are connected, now I know where our possible genetic connection is: it looks like we both inherited DNA from Andrew Cowan and/or Anne Smellie. We need to verify the connection through our trees—after all this is just a “hint”—but since we know we share DNA, this is a great place to start.

The number of hints will continue to grow as more people take the AncestryDNA test and build out their trees. That’s exciting because it means there’s no limit to how many hints you can receive—and every name you add to your tree is one more chance to find more family.


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Googling Your Family History [VIDEO] Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:17:17 +0000 Pam Velazquez You can search the internet from within your family tree. Join Crista Cowan to learn about crafting internet searches that will help you uncover information about your ancestors around the internet. As a bonus tip, she will share the best practice for saving this information to your family tree.


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Well-To-Do or Poor as Church Mice? Figuring Out Your Ancestor’s Wealth Tue, 08 Apr 2014 20:48:12 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> April 5 – 12 is Money Smart Week, designed to help people learn more about their personal finances. Did you know that you can also learn about your ancestors’ financial well-being? You probably don’t have access to their checkbooks (or the jars of cash buried in the back yard), but there are some common records you can use to get a general idea of your ancestors’ wealth.

The 1850, 1860, and 1870 federal census asked for the value of a person’s real estate (land and immovable objects like houses and barns). In 1860 and 1870, the census also asked for the value of personal property. You should take these values as estimates. The census taker didn’t verify the values and it’s possible that the person might have been less than truthful with his or her answers. (Would you tell a complete stranger how much your property is worth?)

My ancestor Samuel Ramsey lived in Hopewell Township, Perry County, Ohio in 1870. According to the census, Samuel had real property worth $5,850 and personal property worth $1,000.

1870 census showing Samuel Ramsey had real estate worth $5,850 and personal property worth $1,000.

1870 census showing Samuel Ramsey had real estate worth $5,850 and personal property worth $1,000.

That’s good information, but what does it really mean to have $5,850 of real estate in Hopewell Township in 1870? There are a couple of ways you can put this into more context. First, you can convert those dollars into “today’s money” using a inflation calculator. One of my favorites is WolframAlpha. On there, I can type in “How much is $5850 in 1870 worth today.” It calculates that an equivalent sum today would be $109,800.

Another way to look at your ancestors’ property values is how they compare to others in the neighborhood. For my Samuel Ramsey, I looked at the property values of the heads of household on his page and the two pages before and after his. Here’s the rundown of the real estate of those 42 heads of household:

  • 12 had no real estate
  • 5 had real estate valued less than $2,500
  • 5 had real estate of $2,500 – $4,999
  • 12 had real estate of $5,000 – $7,499
  • 4 had real estate of $7,500 – $9,999
  • 4 had real estate of $10,000 or more

The average real estate value of all the heads of household was $4552; the average value among just the landowners was $6,374. So my Samuel and his $5,850 in real estate was above average in one way, but definitely wasn’t among the larger landowners in his neighborhood. Seeing this helps me put that $5,850 in better context.

You can do the same type of analysis and comparison with the values on the agricultural and industry/manufacturers schedules. These can be found for selected states in Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880.

Newspapers can also give an idea of the cost of living. Check out the classified section for the cost of house rentals. Advertisements will give you an idea of the cost of common items, so you can see how far a dollar would have gone.


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